Uganda’s proposed tax on internet data threatens the rights to freedom of expression and access to information

Uganda’s proposed tax on internet data threatens the rights to freedom of expression and access to information - Digital

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by a policy proposal to transform the Over-the-Top (or OTT) tax, which is paid via mobile money services, into an internet data tax in Uganda.

On 14th January 2020, the Uganda Revenue Authority’s (or URA) Commissioner General, Doris Akol, reportedly proposed that the OTT tax be transformed into a full-fledged tax on internet data to be paid by users. This followed URA’s reported deficit of UGX 234.48 billion (2019) from its estimated OTT revenue target, due to ‘evasion and non-compliance’ by OTT users.
The Ugandan government should refrain from further taxing users’ access to the Internet, and reject the Uganda Revenue Authority’s (or URA) suggestion to directly tax mobile internet bundles.
“Taxing internet data at the source will disproportionately and negatively impact the ability of users in Uganda to gain affordable access to the Internet and ICT services. This will further restrict the right to freedom of expression and access to information, and will stifle the dynamism latent in Uganda’s nascent digital economy,” said Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The imposition of the OTT (or ‘social media’) tax in 2018 has had visibly negative effects. The Uganda Communications Commission reports that internet penetration rates dropped from 47.4% (18.5 million users) in June 2018, to 35% (13.5 million users) by September 2018. Despite UCC reporting a three per cent (3%) increase in penetration rates between Q3 2018 and Q2 2019 (15.1 million users), a reported three (3) million people are effectively restricted from accessing OTT services.

Uganda’s Constitution recognizes the right to freedom of expression and the right to access information. Uganda has also ratified various international and regional human rights treaties which require the country to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression.

“We urge the government of Uganda to conduct prior cost-benefit as well as human rights’ impact assessments, before adopting or preparing policy and legislative documents, and avail these for public comment,” said Mugambi Kiai.

Uganda, in line with its regional obligations, stands guided by the recently adopted (with amendments) Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, following efforts by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa.

Principle 38 of the Declaration notes that States Parties should “only adopt economic measures, including taxes, levies and duties, on internet and information and communication technology service end-users, that do not unduly interfere with universal, equitable and affordable access to the internet and that are justifiable and compatible with international human rights law.”

Contact

For more information, please contact: Mugambi Kiai, Regional Director:
[email protected]

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