Electronic commerce, generally referred to as e-Commerce, is rapidly evolving and businesses are trying to adapt to these changes.
If you are, for example, a business owner in the tourism industry, you should keep the legal aspects of e-commerce in mind when deciding to sell your products or services online.
By definition, e-commerce refers to the Internet based industry of buying and selling products or services via electronic means.
E-Commerce uses a combination of Internet technology, mobile commerce, electronic funds transfers, escrowing services, electronic data interchange, supply chain management, inventory management systems, Internet marketing, data collection systems, and many other technologies and innovative business systems.
Most, if not all, e-commerce transactions use the Internet for at least one point of the transaction.
Though this column’s intention isn’t about describing what e-commerce is, it is worth it.
To begin with, the use of e-Commerce depicts a paradigm shift ushered in by the advent of the internet. E-commerce appears to be the new anchor of global commerce and has brought significant changes to world trade.
Owing to ubiquitous internet connectivity pretty much everywhere, it has exponentially transformed the lives of people in many ways, without leaving e-commerce go unchecked.
Across the world, everyday household appliances will be internet-enabled to automatically and constantly communicate with their manufacturers or traders and with one another.
Like many countries, Rwanda has considerably integrated e-governance to transform relations with citizens, business and other arms of the government. It involves information technology initiatives that are destined to improve the way of life.
Among other things, the interaction between government and citizens or government and businesses e-services (e.g. e-procurement which currently applies in all state agencies), the internal government operations (e-administration) and external interactions (e-society).
These widely-applied electronic government services have had tremendous positive impact on the lives of many in our time.
Thus, similar efforts are required to put in place policy and regulatory frameworks to promote and ease doing e-commerce. The existing regimes scantly recognize e-commerce but are short of addressing fundamental issues, among other things, e-taxation.
A business person who wishes to distribute products and services via the internet is required to comply with certain standards at national, regional and international level.
Before launching your website, you must make sure that it meets all of the requirements on e-commerce mentioned in the foregoing paragraph. If your website is already active on the internet, it is important to review and revise the page to make sure that it meets these rules and regulations.
To kick-start the process, companies or individuals ought to communicate these measures to their clients.
This list can serve as a checklist to make sure that everything is in order on your website or on the site that you intend to create. When the user makes a purchase on your website, and before completing the purchase, has all relevant contract information (on delivery periods, payment methods and cancellation options) must be crystal clear.
Another critical issue, noted earlier, is e-taxing e-commerce. The advent of e-commerce has opened up a Pandora’s Box –how to tax e-commerce? A couple of interesting questions can emerge: Is it possible to tax such transactions in view of nature of Internet? Should e-commerce be taxed on lines of physical commercial activities? There are more questions than answers.
Given that e-commerce benefits an online seller and buyer, online transactions should not be immune from taxation solely because the sale is conducted through a medium distinct from that of a traditional physical businesses.
Even if in some instances it may not be ease to tax these online transactions purely on the basis of traditional taxation approach applicable to offline businesses.
As e-commerce represents online transactions involving a consumer and business, occurring instantaneously, which makes it difficult to determine who the buyer and seller are and where they are respectively located? Another question is how to tax such online transactions?
Answers to the aforesaid set of questions would lay down the ground rules of e-taxation vis-à-vis e-commerce. This calls, of course, for a comprehensive legislation on e-commerce, to avoid applying the traditional tax rules available, addressing the preceding complex issues.
It is noteworthy that cyber laws are still at the embryonic stage of development and are developing by seeking analogies from the physical world to address the emerging internet-related downsides.
Considering the exponential growth of the internet, the question of whether or not to regulate e-commerce has been well mooted.
For instance, in June 2014, African Union adopted “the African union convention on cyber security and personal data protection”.
It envisages electronic commerce, requires AU Member States, through regulatory frameworks, to allow e-commerce activities be carried out freely in their territories. Surprisingly, to date, out of 55 countries in the AU, only three have so far have ratified the convention. They include Senegal, Mauritius and Guinea.
The writer is a law expert.