The ICT Minister, Frank Tumwebaze has defended the unpopular tax recently imposed on the access to social networking platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, saying it is critical to further internet connectivity across Uganda.
The Minister said that the ICT sector is faced with a difficult task to mobilize money required to build infrastructure and increase the number of Ugandans that access the internet.
And the new Shs 200 levy on social media will help the sector realize this goal, he said.
“The question is what are OTTs and what’s their difference with resident networks. MTN, Airtel and UTL have a network here. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that are licensed by UCC pay tax to UCC and have invested in the networks here,” Minister Tumwebaze noted.
“OTTs [Over The Top services] like Facebook freely push content here, using existing networks, they contribute nothing towards maintaining this network here. They get money and go away.
He said that the debate globally is on how governments or local networks can get these OTTs to contribute to the expansion of infrastructure.
So should government tax us or they should devise means to go for OTTs. But we vulgalize this and conor it with our own political biases. Even if government targtef Facebook and said if you don’t pay, we shall block your gateway.
Moderate this with a deep sense of knowledge.
According to Tumwebaze, even if government put zero tax on OTTs in the absence of Broadband infrastructure, Ugandans in remote areas of the country will not access these social media platforms.
“To me as the Minister, my priority is rolling out Broadband”.
“When I go to the Minister of Finance asking for USD 200m for satellite, he will ask why I am opposed to taxing my sector yet I want more money to build infrastructure to power connectivity,” Tumwebaze explained.
He was speaking on Wednesday at the Annual Broadcasters Conference organized by National Association of Broadcasters at Imperial Royals Hotel in Kampala.
He said that priority in the ongoing debate should dwell on how to set up the infrastructure that will on top of expanding the internet reach, bring down he cost of data.
As a result of the huge investment by government and telcos, in the national backbone (internet optic fibre), the cost of data came down from USD 300 per mbps per month, to less than USD 50.
“I’m more worried about I can connect Paidha in Pakwatch and Kyaniga in Kisoro so we get more person on the internet. Can you get Facebook and WhatsApp without data connectivity?”
While he acknowledged that the anti-social media tax campaigners have a valid point that the tax could stiffle innovation among the youth, he said that such startups won’t survive without internet penetration.
Meanwhile, the Minister termed as ‘populists’ politicians especially Members of Parliament that are opposed to the new levies, saying they are only seeking cheap popularity.
“They are just cheap populists. They were in Parliament when that tax passed. We didn’t see any strong protestation from MPs. They want to be seen,” he said.
“Go to the Hansard. What did Kyagulanyi say, what did Karuhanga say, if they understood that the tax was detrimental. Why are they now jumping to own the civil suit of the young people from civil society”.