By Patrick Ocaido
Majority of Ugandans will soon or later afford smartphones after government through National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) proposed to scrap taxes on the devices.
This was revealed by James Saaka, Executive Director, NITA-U who was appearing along with other Authority officials before the Committee on ICT to discuss the Budget Framework Paper FY 2018/19 among other key issues.
During the interaction, Saaka told the committee headed by Annet Nyakecho (Tororo North County) that in a bid to increase accessibility of smartphones, NITA-U in conjunction with the ministry of ICT & National Guidance have agreed to bring a proposal to Parliament to remove taxes on smartphones.
“We have lowered the cost of internet and that is good, but today of the 25m subscribers we have in the country, only about 4m smartphones are available because they are expensive and yet we are moving much things online so that instead of coming to offices, people use their smartphones,” Saaka said.
He added, “If those devices are not affordable then we are hitting ourselves on the foot. So, we need to remove taxes on the smartphones so that a common man in Nakapiripirit can afford one and can for example process his permit or passport.”
In an interview, Saaka told the Kampala Post that the proposal is a policy issue that will be handled by the ICT ministry who will forward it to cabinet before it is brought to Parliament.
“This is a policy issue and we only give an input, but the ministry is working on it so that we can get it through cabinet,” Saaka said.
Ugandans pay VAT (Value Added Tax) and Excise Duty on every product consumed or bought to Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) in compliance with the Excise Duty Act, 2014.
“If you take off VAT and Excise Duty then a smartphone that costs about Shs200,000 or Shs300,000 will even be cheaper and that is what we want,” Saaka said.
On the other hand, the Authority also told the committee that the ICT ministry is drafting a Bill titled- IT Professionals Bill to regulate professionals and curb quack IT specialists or hackers.
“Auditors, doctors, accountants, lawyers etc are all regulated, but the IT people are not regulated. We have so many cases of fraud in IT and we can’t even stop them. People get contracts to do ICT and they don’t deliver them, but you can’t sue them,” he said.
During the meeting, Benard Atiku, Ayiru County MP asked NITA-U to provide a mechanism to reduce paperwork system especially at the airport which has portrayed a bad image of the country.
“How can it take you 45minutes to travel from Nairobi to Uganda and then it takes you more than one hour to be cleared at Entebbe airport? Let’s reduce on this paper work through ICT services,” Atiku said.
Among other issues that MPs on the committee raised is reduction of queues in government agencies, reducing further cost of internet and ensuring capacity building and training on usage of computers especially to local leaders for the online declaration of wealth.