The government of Cameroon will not be going ahead with a plan to introduce a new method for the payment of Customs clearance tax for imported telephones and other mobile devices. The measure was to take effect on 15 October 2020 but its implementation was soon thrown into uncertainty as the entire nation protested against the move which was seen as putting an undue financial burden on end-users of mobile phones in the country.

In what appeared to a be a prompt reaction to the protest which happened online and via local media organs, the country’s 87-year-old President Paul Biya on 19 October 2020 told Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute to suspend the new measure and look for a better and more acceptable plan concerning the payment of the tax.

A more comprehensive payment plan

In a correspondence sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and seen by iAfrikan, the powerful Secretary-General at the Presidency, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, told the Prime Minister he had been instructed by the President to call for a suspension of the tax. He said the Head of State had asked for a more comprehensive plan to be sent to his office for a proper review.

The move by Cameroon to suspend the new tax comes days after a robust online campaign dubbed #EndPhoneTax was launched. The online protest had more than 70, 000 tweets in less than one week, with hundreds of other comments on platforms such as Facebook. Apart from the online campaign, authoritative voices in Cameroon, especially in the entertainment industry and politics, also joined in to condemn the tax.

Although officials of the Taxation and Customs departments tried hard to give justifications for the new measure, critics hold that going ahead with the decision was going to cause great financial strife for millions of telephone users in Cameroon.

About the phone tax

Customs officials had announced that the phone tax would be 33% of the total factory price of the mobile device.  According to the proposed method, the responsibility for the payment of the Customs clearance fees would lie with the end-user of the telephone in case the importer fails to pay the tax. To this effect, an automated billing platform was to be put in place and linked to the user’s mobile network provider, making it possible for the user’s airtime account to be automatically debited for the tax payment. This is what didn’t go down well with most Cameroonians.

Even before the Cameroonian leader called for the suspension of the mobile phone tax on 19 October 2020, key stakeholders involved in the process such as telephone network providers, operators of the electronic platform which was to collect the payment as well as regulatory bodies such as the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) were yet to agree on certain operational modalities that would have facilitated the process, according to experts familiar with the situation.

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