Kadaga suspends debate on MoMo, social media taxes as govt returns to drawing board

PARLIAMENT–Speaker Rebecca Kadaga Wednesday suspended debate on the controversial social media and mobile money taxes to consult further, hours after government sought for a review of the levies by the House.

Kadaga said she needs time to consult her legal team on whether Parliament has the powers to suspend implementation of an Act it has passed and one that has already been assented to by the President.

Parliament, which had been on recess, was convened on Wednesday to discuss the law whose implementation on July 1 left Ugandans up in arms.

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Kadaga’s statement followed a statement made by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda in which he revealed that government is in the process of reviewing the Act, and the new amendments set to be tabled on July 19 before Parliament for a fresh round of debate.

Dr Rugunda explained that following the amendments, MPs will have the opportunity to debate and cautioned them to consult widely so as to make an appropriate decision.

“Government is now reviewing the taxes taking into consideration the concern of the public and its implications for the budget. The review is being expedited to ensure that Government presents an amendment of the Excise Duty Amendment Act 2018 to present to this August House for debate on Thursday next week,” PM Rugunda said.

However, the Prime Minister’s statement raised more questions with Kadaga asking him what Ugandans should do in the meantime–ahead of the newly proposed amendments.

Ugandans have been subjected to the controversial Shs200 per-day social media tax and 1% levy on mobile money transactions.

The unpopular taxation policy had forced President Museveni into explanations, saying the social media tax was justified as the digital era communication tool was for gossips and rumourmongers, but clarifying that the 1% on mobile money transaction was a miscommunication.

Museveni said there was no justification in taxing deposit on mobile money and that only withdrawal and sending was to be subjected to levy, clarifying further that it was 0.5%.

However, since then, subscribers have continued to pay 1% with mobile money operations left in jeopardy as most users have chosen to abandon the system in protest. Only the deposit levy was silently scrapped.

Raising queries on the confusion that will arise further, Kadaga remarked: “This Bill is the Bill of this House. If it comes, it has to be subjected to the 45 days because we can’t debate it in a day.”

Rugunda said Ugandans have to continue paying the taxes arguing, “What will happen between now and when the law is considered will the implementation of the existing law.”

Cecilia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman MP) asked the premier to explain where the money that has been collected is being kept so far and how much has been raised so far.

“Now that government has admitted that the Act was erroneously passed, I think it is clear that the tax was erroneously passed in the House. May we know where the money is being kept and how much money has been collected so far? Will they return the money that has been taken?” Ogwal asked.

However, Kadaga was quick to correct, her pointing out that there was nothing erroneous about what Parliament did as the proposals passed were brought by government, not Parliament.

Paul Mwiru (Jinja East) questioned if government was going to refund money that was collected on deposit fees before the Commissioner General of URA reversed the decision.

With more and more legislators raising queries but getting little or no response from government side, Kadaga was forced to suspend the debate. “I want to consult with my team to see how we can handle segments of that law, so we should wait. I will give my ruling tomorrow on this issue so that we know how to move.”

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