Gov’t mulls taxing call services of WhatsApp, Zoom, Facebook et al

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Minister for Communications, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful

The Ministry of Finance, Ghana Revenue Authority and Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation are keenly strategising on ways to rake in revenue from Over-The-Top (OTT) digital services, as many telecommunication customers are moving away from traditional sources of telecoms like voice…thereby reducing government revenue.

An over-the-top (OTT) digital service is a media service offered directly to telecommunication customer via the Internet. OTT bypasses cable, broadcast, and satellite television platforms. Currently, many people are resorting to OTT communications to reduce communications expenses. With this, they are open to real-time communications solutions that operate over the Internet – such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Facebook, Skype and others.

Addressing the Mobile Technology for Development (MT4D), Minister for Communications and Digitalisation Ursula Owusu-Ekuful hinted that stakeholders in the telecommunication sector, especially Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), will be engaged on how government can shore-up its revenue by taxing OTT.

“We are determined to accelerate the use of digital technology, applications and services at all levels, build and protect our digital infrastructure, and enhance capacity and digital skills acquisition of our youth. As you may be aware, it is only through tax revenue mobilisation that such investments and more can be funded.

“Currently, government is losing huge revenues from the MNOs to OTT digital service providers as traditional sources of telecoms revenue like voice declines. It is important that we have a frank, open dialogue on this, and explore other sources of revenue within the digital services space to improve government domestic revenue mobilisation,” Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful said.

Chamber of Telecommunication

This is coming at a time the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications has intensified its advocacy for removal of the law that imposes a 19 cents per minute charge for inbound international calls on telecommunication companies.

Data from the Chamber has revealed that revenue which has accrued to the state and the telecommunications companies declined by over 200 percent in the past nine years since the law was introduced. In 2010 revenue accrued stood about GH¢360million, but that figure has declined to some GH¢107million in 2019.

The Chamber is therefore arguing that apart from the fact that the move fuels SIM Box fraud because some unscrupulous persons re-route these calls as local calls and benefit from them, the ever-changing lifestyle of telecom users is having a negative impact on revenue generation on that front, as many telecommunication customers are resorting to OTT.

Minister on cyberthreat

Mrs. Owusu-Ekuful added that the increased adoption of technology in various sectors of the economy is excellent, but it also comes with risks such as financial fraud, data breaches, identity theft and cybercrimes which must be addressed to protect people and systems.

“The Cybersecurity Act 2020, Act 1038, has just been enacted; and it establishes an authority to protect our critical information infrastructure, regulate cybersecurity activities, provide for interception of communication, and develop the cybersecurity of our country. We are in the process of operationalising the act. We will also be conducting SIM re-registration this year, a process that is long overdue,” she intimated.

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