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Tumwebaze Opposes Move to Compel All Government Agencies To Use Only UTL

Minister of Information and ICT Hon Frank Tumwebaze has expressed strong reservations on government’s recent decision to have all its ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) start using Uganda Telecom Ltd (UTL) for all their Voice and Data needs.

The Minister made known his reservations to this decision, in a letter to the Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda yesterday.

Government, ever since appointing new leadership at the mismanaged UTL, has been making efforts to make the heavily indebted company relevant on the market again.

Bernard Twebaze, an administrator at UTL said in a statement that the company had since April this year, improved in its operations and that they are now focused providing affordable internet to Ugandans.

In this vein, last week on Thursday, government through the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Finance, Keith Muhakanizi ordered that “all internet, mobile and fixed telephone communication for government business must be procured from UTL.”

Muhakanizi believes this will lower government’s communications for its communications.

As such, all accounting officers from all ministries, departments and agencies are expected this Friday to meet at the Finance Ministry offices in Kampala to be guided on the implementation of this directive.

This is a bad idea, according to ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze.

The minister says this usurps the mandate of his ministry, which is charged with among others implementing the broadband strategy among other ICT aspects.

In the letter to the Prime Minister, Tumwebaze also expressed concern that Muhakazini’s directive contradicts government’s 2012 decision to use the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) for all its internet under the management of NITA.

While UTL promises to provide much cheaper internet, Tumwebaze says there should be proof first that this is possible, especially now that the company is not offering these services.

His ministry, he says, would have expected a proposal from UTL demonstrating how they plan to offer cheaper internet services sustainably and below what government is getting from NITA’s NBI.

“If found convincing, a possible partnership between UTL and NITA would have been explored to build synergies and deliver cheaper internet to the MDAs and the public, but not jeopardize the NBI already in existence, and which government invested in heavily,” he wrote.

Tumwebaze went on to enlist a number of efforts which is ministry has already undertaken to lower the cost of internet, some of which have produced results.

He warned that any interventions outside of these efforts would derail the sector

These somewhat extreme steps being made to revive the operations of Uganda Telecom are being spearheaded by State Minister for Investment and Privatization Evelyn Anite, who has the ear of President Yoweri Museveni.

Recently, the minister proposed that all Ugandans should be compelled to own UTL Sim cards in the same way as having a national ID.

Anite said having a UTL mobile phone line would be a show of patriotism and pride for Ugandan.

The cabinet later came out to distance itself from the minister’s statements.

Analysis

The public has for long been complaining of high costs for data, a situation Tumwebaze has since promised to address.

Interestingly, government recently invested almost $200m dollars in building backbone fibre infrastructure.

The same government has been buying Internet through the same backbone under NITA.

When an operator such as UTL takes over supply of Internet to government and resorts back to the private market, what will be the fate of the huge govt investment in the backbone ?

Officials told ChimpReports that the Ministry of Finance which sits on NITA board and as the Ministry in charge of planning should have advised government correctly on the rationale of taking up these huge loans to invest in the backbone.

The unanswered question is: If UTL has capacity to offer cheap Internet why can’t they do so on the market and out-compete the other telecoms?

Then automatically all businesses both from government and private sector will go to them.

A mistake also that was made by government in 2007 when it borrowed $100m from China Exim bank to finance the backbone was that it never defined correctly a policy on broadband(Internet) infrastructure.

Telecoms were allowed to continue investing in their own private infrastructure.

When they invest in their own infrastructure, they have to recoup their monies through high data prices.

In Ethiopia government forced all telecoms to use the government-built fibre.

Officials say it’s not easy to force the telecoms in Uganda to use the government fibre because they have already invested heavily in theirs.

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