Four Civil Society Organizations ( CSOs), CHRR, CIPESA, YAS and HREP, have called for an urgent appeal for affordable inteyrnet and mobile phone services in Malawi in view of new Covid -19 restrictions.
The CSOs says they welcome new measures by the government to contain the spread of the corona virus including suspension of all public gatherings such as meetings and workshops.
The organizations are making an urgent appeal to the government to immediately reduce the cost of Information Technology ( ICT) services noting with deep concern that currently the internet is priced beyond the reach of the majority of Malawians.
This is contained in a statement co jointly signed by the four CSOs , Michael Kaiyatsa, Charles Kajoloweka, Maziko Matemba and Dr. Wairagara Wakabi dated 11th July, 2020.
In the statement, the four CSOs say they are concerned that the country has maintained a 17.5% value – added Tax( VAT) on mobile phones services, a 16.5% VAT on internet services and an additional 10% excise duty on mobile phone text messages and internet data transfers introduced in 2015.
The statement says the VAT is making access to Internet extremely expensive for average Malawians, putting the majority of the population, which is poor and rural based, at a huge disadvantage.
The CSOs say affordable internet access is crucial to enable continuity in public service provision, business operators, and access to health services.
“The internet mobile phones and related technologies are playing a crucial role in the fight against Covid -19 by facilitating access to information on health and safety during the pandemic,” reads part of the statement.
The four CSOs say reducing the cost of the internet is in line with Malawi laws, which favour expanding access to the citizenry; saying the law mandates MACRA to ensure the provision of universal services is made on affordable tarriffs that are accessible to all, yet still, Malawi has lower levels of Internet access in comparison with regional neighbours such as Zambia, where internet penetration rates are around twice as high as those in Malawi.
The organizations finally are urging the new government to implement the provisions of the Universal Service Fund and reviewing the ICT sector taxation regime with a view to remove all taxes, including the 17.5% value – added tax( VAT) on mobile phones and services and the 16.5% VAT on internet services.