By Spy Uganda
It’s obvious that since 1998 (21 yrs now) when the first Telecom company hit Kampala streets, they’ve majorly been operating on ‘mutual’ understanding and day-to-day negotiations with the Gov’t, but this to a larger extent has not guaranteed consistent quality services to the final consumers of the these telecoms products. Very often the Gov’t has been engaging them more on the revenue remittances but really not so much on quality assurances. For instance, if a customer is in the middle of a call and all of a sudden the network becomes completely unsupportive of the communication, the only option you have is to make that call again to finish your business, but your money spent with in that unclear call due to poor network will not be compensated.
In other words, you will need to pay more as a customer to a network problem which was supposed to be the burden of the service provider.
Another example is, if a customer is for instance on airtel network but is in an area within the country that doesn’t have airtel network but has MTN network, that client is by law supposed to automatically roam and access communication via MTN (National roaming) at no extra cost.
The last proposal that ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze suggested should be considered before renewal of MTN and other telecommunications’ licences is that, at least all telecoms should offer minimum 3G network upcountry and 4G in major towns of Uganda. Of course these innovations come with millions of dollars for telecommunications to implement.
Now, in order to counter Tumwebaze’s good intentions as ICT minister, TheSpy Uganda can exclusively report that we have landed on a plot where leading telecom companies have ganged up together to fight back by sponsoring smear campaigns aimed at socking his name into false allegations of soliciting moneys.
According to our spy, one such company is telecom giant, MTN.
As many might know now, MTN has been involved in a struggle to renew its licence for the next 10 years in vain so far. Basically it’s because there are many vital issues they need to first address before their licence is renewed, these range from their alleged involvement in espionage by some of its top officials, some of which have already been deported against their will.
In fact, MTN had thought this would be a smooth exercise without the involvement of the whole government, but after smelling a rat, they employed other tactics, including their boss un-officially meeting with the president in Switzerland to explain themselves.
However, the minister of ICT Hon Tumwebaze stuck to his guns and took the matter to cabinet to make it more transparent and to let the whole executive arm of government aware of the telecom giant performance record. Even after MTN’s number one meeting the president, Frank stood his guns and kept on pushing for the new proposed regulations to their utter annoyance.
Frank wrote a detailed paper to cabinet doing a SWOT analysis on MTN. He particularly faulted them on their failure to deliver quality service obligations while pricing highly their data services and to be forced to honour the ‘connectivity roll out’ obligations. He asked Cabinet chaired by the President to only renew the Licence of MTN if only their new licence carried stringent terms and conditions.
Tumwebaze further told cabinet that the reason why telecom companies had reaped so much from the citizens yet offered not so good quality services was because of lack of a strong policy to guide the ICT sector in terms of regulating all telecoms and other internet service provider operations. He thus introduced to cabinet the broadband policy 2018 that sets tough conditions for them. The policy is as tough as that of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania.
The following are some of the stringent conditions contained in the policy which many Telecom giants are having sleepless nights over:
1-Local Listing on the stock exchange; The telecom operators as a licensing condition will be required to list locally. This will help on mitigation of capital flight among other benefits of local content development opportunities that come along.
2-National coverage; Every operator that seeks a national operator license must be able to cover the entire geographical area of Uganda so as to enable universal access, promote effective competition and quality of service.
3-Spectrum management; The spectrum being a scarce and finite government resource, needs to be managed and utilized efficiently, optimally and rationally. This is intended to outlaw hoarding of spectrum and enable realization of the economic value of the spectrum through spectrum re-farming. The principle for all operators will be ‘use it OR lose it’.
4-National roaming; Roaming refers to the ability of a customer to automatically make and receive voice calls, send and receive data, or access other services, even when travelling outside the geographical coverage area of his service provider, by means of using the service of the other service provider’s network. Currently within the country, customers of one service provider cannot access the ICT services of the other service provider. The policy aims to enable customers to have a seamless access and coverage for the customers irrespective of their network. This will ensure universal access to ICT services.
5-Number portability; This refers to the possibility for subscribers to retain their exact telephone numbers when changing network. Currently the customers cannot switch from one service provider to another without acquiring another telephone number. The policy aims to empower the customers to choose their service provider without the challenge of changing telephone numbers.
6-Structured renewal of license; Currently, there is no clear policy for renewal of all licenses while some licenses stipulate automatic renewal on expiry of the current license. This policy aims to provide for a structured renewal framework for the licenses taking into consideration the roll-out obligations, quality of service and technological developments.
Any license therefore, to be issued to any operator be it at first application or renewal must have the above policy reforms as part of the licensing conditions
The President and Cabinet were very excited about the tough policy reforms especially on the first condition of listing on the local stock exchange to allow Ugandans buy into the telecoms shareholding.
Since then, Tumwebaze has become a serious ‘enemy’ of the Telecoms and is now being targeted through sponsorship os smear campaigns against him so he can back off his earlier position. Many of them have since been using many of their highly connected contacts in statehouse and diplomatic channels to meet and convince the President to halt the implementation of this policy.
However, the President seems to have stuck to his guns and fully supported the Tumwebaze’s Policy. That is why even when the overall boss of MTN recently met the President in Davos to lobby him over this tough policy, the President was quick to insist to them on the need for mandatory listing. And apparently MTN will have no choice but to list. Other national telecom operators like Airtel will have to follow suit since the policy is for all in the sector. To this, they think Tumwebaze is fighting them, though the president agreed with that this is good for the country, since they’ve been literally putting up their own policies against which they’ve been operating on 21 yrs later. Frank Tumwebaze told the president it was time Gov’t took full control since technology was becoming the in-thing.
In addition to these tough conditions, Tumwebaze and his ICT ministry team promised to keep Cabinet informed of the process of renewal of the MTN licence. Cabinet further tasked the attorney General to reinforce the ministry of ICT and UCC to make sure that the final licence to be issued to MTN would contain all the above new policy conditions and that they would form the basis of assessing future performance of the telecom giant.
To make matters worse for MTN, while they were still negotiating with UCC on renewal of licence fees, the President wrote a letter to Tumwebaze and Byaruhanga demanding to know why UCC was trying to bend to demands of MTN to reduce fees from $100m as earlier proposed to $58m.
This got MTN worried and angry with Tumwebaze who had taken this whole matter to cabinet and opened it up to everybody including the President. In other sectors like energy, licences for mining rights and even oil blocks are handled quietly by the minister and technocrats and NOT whole cabinet. Since then, the matter of the final amount of licence for MTN to pay remains pending for Cabinet and the President to decide.
MTN and its lobbyists are mad with Tumwebaze and his ministry for taking this matter to cabinet and they suspect he is behind working with intelligence to supply all info about MTN tax evasion and espionage activities.
Reliable sources told the Spy ganda that they have thus sponsored a smear campaign (like the recent article written by a lady in Canada who runs the Nagalama blogger) to tarnish and frame Tumwebaze. In addition to sending threats to him that if he doesn’t go slow on the telecom giant they will finance fully his opponents in the 2021 elections.
Tumwebaze unlike other Museveni ministers is known for being a no-nonsense and decisive, no matter the threats or blackmail aimed at cowing him down, Tumwebaze is not the kind who gets easily intimidated.
His style of work has earned him friends and foes in equal measure. No wonder when Tumwebaze was transferred from Presidency and Kampala docket, Musisi got demoralised. She lacked a political defender. In her resignation she cited lack of political support.