UCC, URA Sued Over Social Media Tax, VPN Blocked!

By Andrew Irumba

The petitioners contend that if the new tax is not annulled, it will curtail business start-ups and affect job seekers thereby infringing on the economic rights of citizens

Five concerned citizens and a technological company, Cyber law Initiative on Monday petitioned the Constitutional Court to order for an annulment of the new social media tax (OTT).

The petitioners include; Cyber Law Initiative (U) Ltd, a company ltd by guarantee, Opio Daniel Bill,Baguma Moses,Okiror Emmanuel, Silver Kayondo and NBS TV journalist Raymond Mujuni.

The newly introduced Shs200 daily social media (OTT) tax took effect on Sunday July 1st, forcing some Ugandans to resort to Virtual Private Network (VPN), a technology that creates a safe and encrypted connection over a less secure network, such as the internet.

The petitioners led by a one Daniel Opio have sued the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) accusing it of unfairly giving an enabling environment for Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to collect this tax, and the Attorney General (AG) to explain why government does not offer free internet services to its citizens as they promised last year but have instead resorted to taxing.

“Section 3(b)and 6(e) of the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act, 2018 imposing excise duty of Ugshs 200 per user per day of access to over the top (OTT) services on telecom service operators are unnecessary and incompatible with profound good internet governance principals and tenets of open internet and internet neutrality contravening articles 21,79,43,29,8A(1),45 and 38 of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda” read part of their petition before  court.

Petitioners present their petition in court on Monday

The group claims the tax is politically motivated since it was passed with no meaningful public participation, hinders freedom of speech, economic growth, and innovation and will have a negative impact on online media.

The petitioners also contend that if the new tax is not annulled, it will curtail business start-ups and affect job seekers thereby infringing on the economic rights of citizens.

The social media tax was approved and passed by Parliament in March 2018. The citizens now ask the Constitutional Court to declare that the tax is illegal and issue immediate orders stopping government from levying it and barring URA from collecting the same.

Meanwhile, The Uganda communications commission (UCC) announced on Monday that it was working out modalities with telecom companies to block VPN services against some Ugandans who are evading the tax by using VPN to access the social media platforms.

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