By Spy Uganda
Kampala: The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) a commission responsible for monitoring and advancing human rights in Uganda,has asked government to amend the law introducing Over The Top tax (OTT) and suspend it during the electoral period in order to make internet more affordable and accessible.
Dr. Katebalirwa Amooti Irumba, the acting chairman of the commission told journalists yesterday that it is necessary to scrap the tax in the wake of digital campaigns where the public is using social media platforms to reach the electorate.
It is worth noting that in late May 2018, amidst criticism, parliament passed a legislation that introduced OTT where users of social media platforms would pay 200 shillings daily to access the services.
Dr. Katebalirwa further asked Uganda Communications Commission – UCC, the communication regulatory body to issue guidelines to candidates and the electorate on the responsible use of social media during the electoral period.
In June, the Electoral Commission announced that there would be no political rallies to avoid crowds that government banned to stop the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The public was urged to make use of different media platforms to deliver and receive electoral messages.
This however bore questions on access to media with several saying opposition politicians would meet it rough accessing media houses whose ownership is dominated by sympathizers of the ruling government they accuse of oppressing their freedom of speech and expression. The cost of access to media outlets like TV, radio and internet also emerged as a challenge.
Now, Dr. Katebalirwa also says that government should explore the possibility of expanding urgently the internet network and engage the telecommunications service providers to review the high costs of internet in Uganda in order to make it affordable for majority of citizens.
The Commission further asked UCC to issue guidelines to both state and private media houses to ensure equitable access to media outlets by all candidates and free access to state media outlets.
The Commission further asked the Electoral Commission to intensify on voter education especially those in the context of COVID-19 where it should be inclusive and reach the most vulnerable people in society.
The development comes a month ago since the World Bank called for the scrapping of the same arguing that the move could boost access to coronavirus prevention messages for the vulnerable populations.
The World Bank said in its Uganda economic update 2020 report that the tax has not achieved its intended objective because “the tax is difficult to collect and easy to bypass by more technically-savvy users”
It added that the social media tax is instead reducing “the proportion of internet users and widening digital and income inequality and should be re-evaluated”.
It added that “governments can promote affordability by removing taxes and levies applied to specific digital platforms and services thereby reducing transaction costs and supporting telecommunications companies in lowering prices for services that are needed during the crisis. In the long run, this can broaden the tax base.”