Parliament- If a proposal by MPs is adopted, every mobile phone user will pay an annual Shs5,000 tax for each handset, a move legislators say will help raise more revenue.
The proposal by the shadow finance minister, Mr Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo County), has already been endorsed by the Budget Committee of Parliament chaired by Mr Amos Lugoloobi (Ntenjeru North).
With an estimated 17.5 million mobile phone handsets in the country, this tax would fetch about Shs87 billion annually if adopted by Parliament.
For the financial year 2014/15, the government needs Shs14 trillion to run its operations- up from Shs13 trillion for this current financial year.
“Those with mobile-phones should pay Shs5,000 every year and the money will finance government activities,” Mr Ekanya said at the committee meeting yesterday.
Except for Kole County MP Fred Ebil, who opposed the idea, saying it would increase the burden on tax payers, the rest of the committee endorsed Mr Ekanya’s idea.
The idea came up for discussion as the committee debated a request by the Electoral Commission to have their salaries that were set 15 years ago reviewed.
The chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee, Mr Stephen Tashobya, told his colleagues on the Budget Committee that Shs57.3 billion was needed to effect the salary changes for the EC.
However, because of the constrained resource envelope, the Finance ministry ignored the request.
It was then that Mr Ekanya proposed the mobile phone tax as a way of raising revenue.
He also proposed that tax on bottled drinking water be raised, before advising that those who think the tax will affect them “to always travel with their own water”.
The MPs also rejected the argument that Ugandans, especially those in the countryside, could not afford the Shs5,000.
“We used to pay service charge. This money is little. They will pay, they have the money,” Mr Bakka Mugabi (Bukooli North) said.
Col Fred Mwesigye (Nyabushozi) said the tax would be a motivation to work.
“Some Ugandans are lazy because they don’t pay taxes. Let us put this tax and they will go and work,” he said.
Responding to the proposal yesterday, the Uganda Communications Commission boss, Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, was cryptic.
“Let’s put it this way, everyone who aspire to advance in ICT, must be taxed,” he said.
The civil society, however, dismissed the idea, saying it was another attempt at over-taxing Ugandans yet offering little in terms of accountability.