Did Bobi Wine lie about fighting social media tax in Parliament?

PARLIAMENT–With constituents mounting pressure on their representatives in Parliament over yet another controversial passing of what has turned out to be a very unpopular law, Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, appears to have some shortcuts up his sleeves.

In December, most MPs were forced to explain themselves to voters on the controversial age limit bill passing in Parliament, now it is the social media and mobile money taxes. For Bobi Wine, though, rather than hit the pedestal of arrogance like James Waluswaka (Bunyole West MP)–who told those who don’t want to pay the tax “to go and die”– a little white lie could do, after all, it is politics.

Bobi Wine told his Facebook followers about how he put a lot of pressure on his fellow MPs not to pass the law that has culminated into the social media tax. He said he opposed social media tax on the floor of Parliament.

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Writing on his Facebook page, the musician turned legislator said: “I personally tried to persuade fellow MPs on the floor of the House that taxing social media would amount to double taxation. But would they listen?

“Sadly, majority of them do not take orders from the people who elected them but from State House and that’s how we end up here. No matter how we raise voices for the common person, as long as that House has majority anti-people MPs, they will always vote in favor of the dictator’s position.”

However, records from the Hansard– the official record of business in Parliament–indicates that on May 31 as MPs debated the unpopular taxation issues, Kyagulanyi did not attempt to convince his fellow MPs to ditch the social media tax, but only opposed the new mobile money tax without uttering any word about social media tax.

The Hansard records Bobi Wine as saying in his submission: “Thank you very much, honourable minister. I appreciate the fact that you mentioned that taxation is a duty and not a punishment. Allow me to inform you that over taxation is not only punishment but oppression.

“Where I come from, mobile money is not just a business but a livelihood. Due to insecurity, people depend mainly on mobile money. I will give an example of a fairly decent Ugandan who earns Shs1 million and they spend all that money through mobile money. If the taxation was levied once, we would not argue so much about it but since it is mobile money, it is charged on every transaction, received or sent.

“That means if that person receives that money, they are being taxed on their salary; when they pay for their children’s fees, they get taxed; and they continue to be taxed at every level, which I believe is oppression. At the end of the day, honourable minister, you realise that life is actually being taxed. Somebody is being taxed multiple times.

I am not going to raise an argument on the cooking oil or the motorcycles but I would like to suggest that we indeed drop this taxation idea. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.”

Legislators appear to have not treated the bill with the attention it deserved. Few must have foreseen the impact it would have on the nation, with Cabinet now directing telecoms to rethink taxing mobile money transactions as it has been deemed double taxation, while the government and other stakeholders have been meeting to discuss the way forward on social media tax.

During the debate, some MPs opposed the bill. According to the Hansard, Silas Aogon (Independent) said it was not good to stifle information flow.

“Secondly, it is also true that when we buy bundles and airtime, we already pay tax; so in a way, we need to do a study. The minister should crosscheck and find out. Most likely, you will discover that we are going to impose double taxation, which is not acceptable.

Annet Nyekecho (INDP): We know that OTT services are mostly consumed by the young people. They are the ones you find using WhatsApp and Facebook. These are graduates who do not have a lot of money. Before you access these services, you have to load airtime, which is again translated into internet bundles of whatever amount you want. Already, I assume you will have paid some tax. So, isn’t this double taxation?

Odonga Otto (FDC): Research, which has been done by a university student, shows that people use WhatsApp only during weekdays and in many cases, during working hours. You walk to every office, one after another, and the staff are even stealing office time to enjoy private chats on WhatsApp… Personally, I do not mind because I need WhatsApp. It is a tax, which is targeting the elites – those who are ostentatious. It does not affect the ordinary man in Pader. That is the information I wanted to give.

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