The new tax on internet data traffic and phone text messages (SMS has come under fire from Members of Parliament who have said it’s retrogressive during their debates on the 2015/16 national budget in the capital Lilongwe.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe announced the new tax measure in his budget statement.
Karonga South MP Malani Mtonga ( Peoples Party) said in Parliament that it is “saddening to note” that the excise duty on text messages and data on mobile telephones is targeting the youth of who are about 70 per cent of Malawi population and most of them, are unemployed.
“We feel this is a misplaced measure,” said Mtonga, a youthful politician himself.
Minister of Information Kondwani Nankhumwa has also reportedly cautioned Finance Minister that internet levy would negatively defeat the drive of making telecommunications services affordable.
And Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) has since written operators who increased the tariffs to suspend the increase, saying the new tax is supposed to be implemented by July 1 2015 after all necessary bills are passed (as they are or after some amendments) in the National Assembly.
Commenting on that, Mtonga wondered whether there was consultation on the budget, “because today the Minister of Finance cannot make this statement and tomorrow we hear there is a letter from the Minister of Information to the Minister of Finance and the other day we hear MACRA is saying this and the next day we hear MRA saying do not take the instruction on tax. I feel there was no proper consultation or maybe something is wrong.”
Also contributing on the issue, former first lady and MP for Balaka West (independent), Shanil Dzimbiri, while acknowledging that government removed custom duties from cell phone handsets with good intentions for their affordability, expressed sadness that the utilization of such handsets will be hindered by the newly introduced tax on SMS and mobile data.
“Many citizens cannot afford airtime for communication and they rely on short message service. It is a huge disservice to make such a mostly used service for many poor people to become costly than the actual purchasing of handsets,” said Dzimbiri.
“Similarly, the extension of tax on transferable data goes against the government’s own initiative of making internet a social tool for development in both rural and urban context. It is also against the global movement where many countries are making internet cheaper and largely free,” she added.
Dzimbiri said SMS and internet tax “surely needs to be reversed”, saying it denies people from using the handsets that they have already purchased for communication.
“Communication and information nowadays are critical ingredients for a functional democracy,” she pointed out.
Malawians pay the highest tariffs to access communication services in the region, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) December 2014 report.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :