Uganda says Quran, Bible tax report was ‘fake news’

Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) on Tuesday described as ‘fake news’ a report that the country was going to tax religious materials which was to include Bibles, Qurans and hymn books.

The privately-owned Daily Monitor portal reported that the tax authority had insisted that not taxing the materials in the past was an anomaly they were trying to fix.

But URA chief, Doris Akol, clarified in a tweet response that there were no such plans: “Fake news. The amendments are actually intended to exempt Bibles and Qur’ans. Ref. VAT Amendment Act 2018;”

Until the clarification, the move has been met by resistance from the two main religious groups in the country – Christians and Muslims. It follows a plan by government months back, to tax social media.

According to the Daily Monitor, nine out of every 10 Ugandans are either Christians or Muslims. Hence the proposed tax would eventually affect the prices of these religious materials. Whiles the government could raise substantial revenues from taxes on religious materials.

An umbrella body for religious groups, the inter-Religious Council of Uganda said even if taxes were to be imposed, the current 18% Value Added Tax (VAT) on such materials was ‘erroneous.’

“These items are not meant for profit; so, it is erroneous to tax them. Prayer books are supposed to strengthen the spiritual nourishment of individuals,” Joshua Kitakule, Secretary-General of the Council said.

Madam Akol, is on record to have said the failure to tax the religious materials over the years was an ‘anomaly,’ and they were working to fix it with the latest move.

“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,” she wrote in an April 19 letter to the Anglican Church’s request for tax exemption on a consignment.

The Church of Uganda (CoU) had to settle an 8.9 million shilling tax to be able to clear a consignment of over 9,000 prayer and hymn books imported from Nairobi, Kenya.

Mr Ramathan Mugalu, the secretary general of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council, is quoted as calling on President Museveni to enforce a directive he made that all imported prayer materials that are not for sale should not be taxed.

“This government has gone too far in its collection of taxes. How can you tax the word of God? It should instead come in to assist in publishing these materials,” Mr Mugalu bemoaned.

A ministry of finance spokesperson, however, defends the move stressing that it was part of efforts to widen the country’s tax base.

“It is not uncommon for URA to bring to the fold persons, items and entities within tax base. It is its mandate to implement tax collection, URA is not a monster; it is their mandate to engage with the affected entities,” Jim Mugunga said.

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