Many Ugandans were Sunday unable to access social media platforms after the government directive to charge users took effect.
Last month, Uganda’s parliament passed new laws that introduced a new tax for use of popular social media platforms which include WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, Yahoo Messenger, Instagram, YouTube, Skype and others.
Users of these platforms are required to pay Sh5.20 (UGX200) daily before they can access them.
“Many Ugandans online unable to access social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp following government directive to tax users UGX 200 daily before they can access them. The directive was effected today (Sunday) at mid-night,” read a tweet from NTV Uganda.
President Yoweri Museveni had pushed for the changes, arguing that social media encourages gossip.
The new Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill will also impose various other taxes, including a one per cent levy on the total value of mobile money transactions.
State Minister for Finance David Bahati told parliament that the tax increases were needed to help Uganda pay off its growing national debt.
In a joint statement on Friday, Uganda’s major telecom operators, including the local division of South Africa’s MTN Group, said they will ask customers to pay a new government tax on social media accounts before they can access them.
MTN, Bharti Airtel and Africell, said that from July 1 OTT (Over The Top) services can be accessed on payment of the OTT tax by the customer.
Payment will be via the three telecom firms’ mobile money platforms. Customers will then be granted access to the platforms if they already have data on their devices.
The law was passed despite stiff resistance from a section of young lawmakers led by the vocal Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyaggulanyi aka Bobi Wine, who said these new taxes amounted to double taxation.
But the Ugandan government argued that the needs of poor citizens had been considered and that the revenue collected from the new taxes would be used to provide services such as free education, free healthcare and roads that are demanded by the citizens.