The rate at which government is introducing new taxes, I wouldn’t be surprised if they rolled out toilet tax, says NDC leader Chishimba Kambwili.

And Green Party leader Peter Sinkamba has charged that government’s new 30 ngwee charge on Internet calling is illegal because it contravenes conventional policy on ICT regulation.

Meanwhile, NAREP president Elias Chipimo described the whole idea as “nonsensical,” adding that there was no way people could be taxed twice on the same product.

Opposition political parties have condemned in the strongest terms the decision by government to impose a 30 ngwee charge on all Internet calls.

This is after government, through Chief Spokesperson Dora Siliya, announced that the decision was arrived at after Cabinet noted that there was an increase in the use of Internet phone calls at the expense of traditional calls, thereby, threatening jobs at MTN, Airtel and Zamtel.

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Kambwili said at the rate government was taxing citizens, it wouldn’t be a surprise if going to the toilet was also taxed.

“When we say Edgar Lungu has destroyed the country through excess borrowing, people are not taking it serious. And you are taking it lightly as Zambians. But I can rest assure you that by the time 2021 comes, you will start eating your children. How can a reasonable government come up with this stupid and useless Internet charge of 30 ngwee? How? You see when you have a government that doesn’t think before they talk, they will always lead you into temptations. First and foremost, when you are using data, when you are using Internet, you have to buy data,” argued Kambwili.

“To buy data you have to buy talk-time [and] on talk-time there is excise duty, on talk-time there is VAT and there is a levy. Now, how can a reasonable government be double taxing its citizens? It’s because the government is broke! They have over-borrowed, the debt now remains at US $15 billion [and] now they have to look for all avenues to make money and I have been warning the Zambian people that watch this space. First, they come to check your cabins and start to charge you with withholding tax on rentals and now they have gone for Internet data. This government has failed! Please, Zambians wake up, get upset, enough is enough! Next day, there will be a toilet levy. Watch the space, they will charge you for going to the toilet because you can’t have a government, which came on the basis of lower taxes, but they have just been increasing taxes. You have toll tax, you have withholding tax, you have cement levy. Can’t you see that the country is now becoming into a situation where the poor will now become poorer?”

And Sinkamba said the decision made by government is not in any way supported by policy.

“We do not find any logic in the argument that has been advanced by government on the introduction of the 30 ngwee tariff or levy in respect of Internet calls. The argument to say that, they want to protect MTN, Airtel and Zamtel is extremely illogical in the sense that such an argument is not supported by policy of government. The policy of government and the laws existing in that regard concern the issue of what we call liberalisation of the market. We are in a deregulated market environment and issues to do with anti-competitive behaviour, which government wants to introduce, where we are going to have that preferential treatment contravenes the law that we have put in place, the consumer protection laws. So, from the policy and law perspective, the decision of government is illegal,” Sinkamba argued.

“And also to tell us that you want to protect a particular environment, look, we used to have the post office where letters used to be sent by post from point A to point B and it used to take in certain instances three weeks to one month to arrive, but then as technology improved, we started having fax communication and then later on we started having Internet communication where we started attaching documents and send. And technology itself has rendered postage of letter as a relic, which unless in certain instances can send, and successive governments did not stop the evolution of the new technology on account of wanting to protect jobs in Zampost. But the moment you bring about road blocks like government is trying to do, there is no innovation in the nation and you only have retardation. We find that kind of behaviour becoming extremely ridiculous.”

He further advised government to come out in the open and confess the financial problems it was having than giving “senseless” justifications.

“I think government should have just come out in the open and tell the Zambian people that, ‘we had a budget, the budget has been overrun, we have exhausted our budget line for the period because we spent 70 per cent of the budget in the first quarter, we still have three more quarters to go, we don’t know where to get money from [and] so we think that we can use this one as one of the ways to generate money to make up for the budget deficit, that would have made a bit of sense,” said Sinkamba

“Whoever was asked to prepare a justification paper for that policy is a total failure and if I were President, I would have fired him or her because, really, government has been exposed! It’s like there was no critical thinking or analysis, which was applied in reviewing that document, which was proposing that or otherwise everyone was scared to tell the President the truth.”

People’s Alliance for Change (PAC) Andyford Banda said the decision did not make sense because mobile service providers are already making money from the sale of bundles.

“A lot of people make calls on WhatsApp, WeChat, Skype, Viber and other Internet calls and that is the reason you find that you spend about 5GB in a month because of these other things meaning that these data that we are paying for now was not there about 18 years ago when phones came in. So, it has transformed and we are still paying. If the government is still worried about saving jobs or serving the MNOs (Mobile Network Operators), it doesn’t make sense because these MNOs were not making money from data about 10-15 years ago. It’s not that they are making money from data so meaning that, from phone calls, people now have Internet and people still call anyway,” Banda said.

He said it is not for government to look for ways to generate revenue for mobile network providers.

“So, it is just a mere excuse, it is just a cheap excuse to try and impose more taxes on the Zambian people. And also, where is that money going to? Is it going to the government or it is going to remain with MNOs? Because if I was running Airtel or MTN or Zamtel, and if I was looking at the fact that we are losing revenue, I am the one who is supposed to come up with a strategy to increase the revenue. It is not supposed to be the government. How does the government come in to help an independent organisations to raise revenue?” wondered Banda.

“Then the other issue that the PF needs to understand is that, they will not pay their debt, they will not come out of this ditch by looking for ways to charge citizens to collect taxes. They need to stop this system of creating opportunities for PF-aligned individuals; So, there are very few people that have disposable income who are able to pay taxes. Then you find that the people that are making money are not even paying taxes because they are aligned to the government. So, the only way to save the country is to create opportunities for everyone so that more and more people can have income and can pay taxes based on what they are getting.”

Meanwhile, NAREP president Elias Chipimo described the whole idea as “nonsensical”.

“This is nonsensical idea! You already have a situation where people have to pay for the bundles that are used on WhatsApp calls; this is not depriving anybody of work or business. It’s actually generating more business and in theory, more work. So, we are seeing very short-sighted and quite frankly, questionable ideas. Ideas that are demonstrating questionable competence when it comes to understanding what really drives an economy and what will lead to job creation. So, there are several problems with this initiative, which has been announced by Cabinet, which makes me really wonder what value is there in having a Cabinet that makes decisions that work against the interest of the people,” said Chipimo.

“Secondly, you have a situation where the Cabinet has now decided as part of this broad sweep of measures, that they are now going to create a new institution dealing with cyber security, which now has to be staffed, funded and we all know that the money that is going to be required is going to be far in excess of whatever they will be gaining from the 30 ngwee that they will be charging for each of these [Internet] calls that will be made. So, in one breath you are trying to say that, you are doing this to protect business and jobs, and then on the other hand in another breath, you are busy creating another institution, which is going to be a drain on public resources. This completely misses the whole point and purpose of why ZICTA is there.”