Some civil society organisations (CSOs) have asked government to reduce the cost of information and communication technology (ICT) services, especially Internet and mobile phones in view of the suspension of physical meetings.
The call has been made in a statement jointly issued by leaders of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabiliation (CHRR), Youth and Society (YAS) and Rights Education Programme and Collaboration on International ICT policy for East and Southern Africa, namely Micheal Kaiyatsa, Charles Kajoloweka and Dr Wairagara Wakabi respectively.
The organisations said with the new measures announced by the government to contain the spread of the contagium, including suspension of all public gatherings such as meetings and workshops, individuals and organisations will have to rely on the Internet for communication, meetings, ecommerce and eLearning.
Read the statement:“We note with deep concern that currently the Internet is priced beyond the reach of the majority of Malawians. A monthly data bundle of 10GB costs MK15, 500 with both TNM and Airtel, which is about half the monthly income of the average Malawian.
“Currently, the minimum wage stands at K35, 000. Plans by the new administration to peg the minimum wage at MK50, 000 are commendable but even at this amount, the cost of the Internet is still beyond the reach of minimum wage earners.”
The CSOs also expressed concern that government has maintained a 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services, a 16.5 percent VAT on Internet services and an additional 10 percent excise duty on mobile phone text messages and Internet data transfers, introduced in 2015 .
“The result of these taxes is that access to the Internet is extremely expensive for average Malawians, putting the majority of the population, which is poor and rural-based, at a huge disadvantage and shutting them out of access to crucial services like mobile banking, access to relevant content and information, as well as access to essential communications platforms that could help lift them out of poverty.”
The CSOs therefore urge the new government to:
- Implement the provisions of the Universal Service Fund to ensure affordable and accessibleInternet in the country.
- Review the ICT sector taxation regime with a view to remove all taxes, including the 17.5 percent value-added tax (VAT) on mobile phones and services and the 16.5 percent VAT on internet services