On 23 September, the Transport Committee of the National Assembly began to study the bill regulating transport technology platforms. The initiative, presented by deputy Cenobia Vargas (Democratic Revolutionary Party – ruling party), contemplates taxing the Uber private car service in the country. Although the bill does not mention a particular tax, one of these would probably be VAT, currently levied at 7% of the sale value. As the bill to regulate digital transport platforms progresses in the Commission, the tax will probably be expanded to cover other platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon. Although the bill does not explicitly state that credit and debit cards will be used to withhold the tax, it does say that the tax will be charged through the system used for the electronic payment means. The deputies have decided to create a subcommittee to study the content of the text in greater detail, and will have 30 days to submit a report to the Committee. It is expected that the bill will continue to be discussed in the medium term.
The subcommittee will comprise the author of the initiative, Cenobia Vargas (Democratic Revolutionary Party – ruling party), deputy Tito Rodriguez Mena (Molirena – opposition), and Elias Alberto Vigil Perez ( Panameñista Party – opposition). Once the bill has been examined by the subcommittee, it will be discussed in a first debate by the Transport Committee before continuing to the plenary, where it will be dealt with in a second debate. Once it has passed that instance, it will be analyzed by a Style Committee which will make corrections to the text. Finally, the text will be discussed in a third debate on the Assembly Floor, before being enacted.
The Uber platform planted its first flag in Central America in Panama in March 2014. By 2017, the Varela government administration had approved decree 331, allowing for cash to be paid for this type of services. The decree has been renewed three times since then. The last extension granted by the government permitting transport platforms to collect cash runs out on September 30. However, the decree does not mention taxes being levied on the intermediary platforms used by the individual passenger transport service, an issue which would be regulated in the initiative presented by Vargas.