The Ugandan government weeks ago reportedly said it will tax social media users from July to raise revenue and to stop gossip on Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter. Many have condemned the proposed taxing of social media and criticising it as one of President Yoweri Museveni’s attempts to stifle freedom of expression. The social media tax will charge each mobile phone subscriber using Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter $0.027. Uganda has 17 million phone subscribers that use the internet.

In an ongoing amendment of the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act, more issues have been raised, such as the reported proposed taxing of religious texts. The Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) proposed taxing religious books including the Koran, the Bible, prayer and hymn books imported into the country. 

The revenue authority Commissioner General Doris Akol told the Daily Monitor, “We understand that Value-Added Tax (VAT) has in the past not been paid on the said Bibles, prayer books and hymn books. This was an anomaly.” The revenue authority imposed 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) on religious materials. The revenue authority has since backtracked on the proposal following a public outrage on the issue. The government also affirmed that it has not levied new tax on Bibles, Qu’rans, prayer and hymn books.

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File picture: An usher collects donations during Sunday service outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA, 21 June 2015 Photo: ANP/EPA/Richard Ellis

The Church of Uganda Archbishop Stanley Ntagali in an appeal to have the proposed tax waived said, “It is from this point of view that we write to you, appealing that the VAT be waived… since they (books) are used to educate the masses and Christians by spreading the word of God as our nation’s motto affirms, ‘For God and my country.”

The Daily Monitor reported that the religious institutions were unable to provide the number of Bibles, Korans and other worship materials sold in a year.

Joshua Kitakule, the secretary general of the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda argued that the religious materials were not meant for profit and was therefore it is erroneous to tax them. “Prayer books are supposed to strengthen the spiritual nourishment of individuals,” he said.

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Ramathan Mugalu, the secretary general of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council  said “How can you tax the word of God? It should instead come in to assist in publishing these materials.”

The Ugandan government has denied that the revenue authority was ordered to tax religious books. In a document sent to UG Christian News, the revenue authority said it rather sought to amend the VAT Act where tax will be removed on Bibles and Korans.