Some Members of the Sierra Leone Parliament have raised various concerns on Section 22 of the Finance Act 2020 which makes provision for the National Revenue Authority to start taxing telecommunication service providers for free calls and free data services promotions by 90%. Before now, promotional calls by mobile companies that are free were given tax exemption by the government, bearing in mind the fact that the promotional calls most of the time benefit the masses. Meanwhile, the argument of the MPs against the move by government to start taxing for free calls was that this would not encourage the companies to think about bringing more promotions or free calls, knowing that they would be paying almost the same taxes as normal calls, which are billable. Honourable Lahai Marrah, representing Constituency 42 in Falaba District was of the notion that a lot of people in his Constituency could only reach out to him on phone on Sundays when the Orange Mobile Company dashes out its promotion for unlimited calls for the rest of the day for a minimal fee of Le 5,000. “We should encourage these companies to continue with more of these programs that would ease the spending of our poor people,” he added.
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Honourable Marrah pointed out that the purpose of the Finance Act and the Budget Bill was to ease the economic challenges of the ordinary masses, but moves by the government through the said clause in the 2020 Finance Act would not speak to that and may render the people more vulnerable. The Paramount Chief Member of Parliament representing Tonkolili District, Bai Kurr Kanagboro Sanka III toed the line of Hon. Marrah, as he appealed with the Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa, who piloted the bill in Parliament, to make considerations and add the amount of money the government would exempt on call promotions by mobile companies to 20% but that did not succeed. The Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa noted that he had met with the various mobile companies to discuss the issues pertaining to the reduction of tax exemption from 100 percent to 10 percent. “We even had problems in determining the amount of calls that these companies give as free or promotional calls of paid for calls,” he explained. Saffa pointed out that there was the tendency for mobile companies to place most of their calls as promotional calls when effectively it was not possible for them to just operate as businesses to just give out promotional calls. “In effect they are hiding under the guise of promotion to evade taxes and the government losses greatly,” he reiterated. The Leader of Government Business in Parliament Honourable Sidie Mohamed Tunis supported the stance of the Minister of Finance, noting that the mobile companies were making huge profits by avoiding to pay much needed revenue to the government. As it is, the said Section 22 of the recently approved Finance Act 2020, which makes provision for the National Revenue Authority to start taxing telecommunication service providers for free calls and free data services by 90% has got the support of the majority of MPs.
By Abdulai Gbla
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