THE Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe has blasted government for proposing a US$50 duty on all imported cellphone gadgets, adding that this would hinder access to information.

In a statement yesterday, Misa Zimbabwe urged government, Parliament and the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (Potraz) to ensure information and communication technologies (ICT) are affordable.

In his 2022 national budget statement last week, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube proposed a US$50 duty on all imported cellphones.

The media lobby group said it supported the push by parliamentarians to have the US$50 duty on new cellphone handsets scrapped.

“Misa Zimbabwe urges the Ministry of Finance to, instead, work closely with the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, and other key stakeholders, to increase uptake in the usage of ICTs as opposed to imposing taxes and levies that widen the digital divide,” Misa said.

“In that regard, while ownership of smartphones is one of the four pillars of meaningful connectivity, the high cost of these devices is the reason why some people do not use the internet, which the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms has declared a fundamental human right.

“The importance of internet access and use in this digital age cannot be over-emphasised as has been experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Last week, mobile data tariffs also went up. Misa said internet access was a human right enshrined in international frameworks.

“However, barriers to internet access still exist at a time when the telecommunications industry is heavily taxed, while the cost of devices, particularly smartphones, laptops and computers, including mobile data tariffs, is still exorbitant,” it said.

Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, students have been relying on e-learning platforms.

MPs last week said the duty on cellphones would derail e-learning and internet access.