In Summary
  • In a public notice on OTT tax dated June 29, 2018, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) informed Ugandans that following directives from the government, a new tax would be imposed on OTT services involving applications that offer voice and messaging over the Internet.
  • This took effect July 1 as the new financial year started.
  • It may have been easy for someone to think of this new tax as a good idea for government to get the money that they so desperately need to maintain the cost of public administration and for URA through the telecom companies, to start implementing it.

Whether it started as a joke that has now been actualised, the new Over The Top (OTT) tax, is ill-motivated, wrongfully thought and intended to curtail ordinary peoples’ rights to freedom of expression.

In a public notice on OTT tax dated June 29, 2018, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) informed Ugandans that following directives from the government, a new tax would be imposed on OTT services involving applications that offer voice and messaging over the Internet. This took effect July 1 as the new financial year started.

It may have been easy for someone to think of this new tax as a good idea for government to get the money that they so desperately need to maintain the cost of public administration and for URA through the telecom companies, to start implementing it. But it will go down our history books as the turning point that saw the information era in Uganda that was ushered in by the invention of the world wide web downgraded through a punitive tax.

In a paper presented during the National Youth Dialogue in June titled “Youth and the Tax Amendments’ 2018”, the Youth Coalition on Electoral Democracy in Uganda (YCED), which is a loose coalition of youth led and youth focused civil society organisations in Uganda, underscored the effect of this tax on young people who will be most affected by it.

There is no doubt that taxes determine the quality of our lives; they are responsible for the health of our environment, the safety of the roads we drive on, the condition of our public services, and the security of our homes and communities and that they also play a fundamental role in shaping our leadership and national identity hence the need for any law abiding citizen to pay tax.

Whereas the government of Uganda has over the years been creative in revenue mobilisation, which is a healthy exercise for government to do, Uganda’s scenario has seen the average citizen struggle to shoulder the burden while investors get away with tax holidays.

The new OTT tax is not the kind of tax that will provide the resources we need to sustain the nation’s civil, social, and economic life, and help support the basic welfare of all individuals and families. It is instead a repugnant tax intended to undermine the power of communication in an era where those who have access to vital information, use it to turn their lives for the better. It will ‘mirror the fundamental inequities that people of different races, classes, and gender experience when they try to access the opportunities that taxes provide.

The level of youth participation in democratic processes had greatly increased given the increasing discourse on social media platforms. This new tax is intended to cripple young people’s participation and freedom to associate.