As many know MTN has been involved in a struggle to renew it’s licence for the next 10 years. They had expected this to be a smooth exercise without the involvement of the whole government. However, the minister of ICT Hon. Frank 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 gaint performance record.
He wrote a detailed paper for cabinet doing A SWOT analysis on MTN. He particularly faulted them on their failure to deliver quality of service obligations while pricing highly their data service and to honour to 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 telecom 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 Ethipia, Rwanda and Tanzania.
The following are some of the stringent conditions contained in the policy which many Telecom giants are having sleepless nights about:
-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.
-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.
-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’.
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.
-Number portability – this refers to the possibility for subscribers to retain their exact telephone number when changing network. Currently the customers cannot switch from one service provider to another without acquiring another telephone. The policy aims to empower the customers to choose their service provider without the challenge of changing telephone numbers.
-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. Many of them have since been using many of their highly connected contacts in statehouse and diplomatic chamnels to meet and convice the President to halt the implementation of this policy. But the President seems to have stuck to his guns and fully supported the TUMWEBAZE 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.
In addition, to these tough conditions Tumwebaze and his ministry of ICT 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 gaint.
To make matters worse for MTN, while they were still negotiating with UCC on renewal licence fees to pay, 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 every body 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 it’s 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 info indicate 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 gaints they will finance fully his opponents in the 2021 elections.
Tumwebaze unlike other Museveni ministers is known for being a no nosense and decisive. No matter the threats or blackmail aimed at cowing him down he cant give in. That is how he was able to silence Lukwago and pave way for Musisi to WORK in kampala. His style of work has earned Tumwebaze friends and foes in equal measure. No wonder when Tumwebaze was transferred from Presidency and kamapla docket, Musisi got demoralised. She lacked a political defender. In her resignation she cited lack of political support.
Politics aside, Ugandans must all stand United against the exploitation of these telecom companies.
Writer is a concerned Citizen