National News


UCC Tasks MTN to Explain Unapproved Tariffs


Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has tasked MTN Uganda to explain why it has been changing internet data and voice call prices in the preceding twelve months without notifying the telecom regulator.

In a July 7th letter to MTN Uganda Limited Chief Executive Officer, UCC executive director Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi says the telecom company should furnish them with justification for price changes as well as new data and voice call prices not later than today - July 12th 2017.

"The commission now directs that you submit the most up to date schedule of retail pricing for all regulated services and products available on the MTN platform(s). Furthermore, the commission directs that MTN provides a detailed justification for all price changes implemented in the last 12 months for which the commission was not notified in advance," the letter reads in part.

According to Uganda Communications Commission Act 2013, UCC is mandated to, among others, regulate rates and charges for communication services with a view of protecting consumers from excessive tariffs and to prevent unfair competitive practices.

Mutabazi explains that telecommunication (tariffs and accounting) regulations No. 27 of 2005 also direct that all tariffs charged be submitted to the commission for approval before they are applied.

In applying unapproved tariffs, says Mutabazi, MTN breached its license terms. "The same requirement (submission of tariffs for approval) is reflected under article 8 of MTN's license for the operation of a telecommunication system and article 18 thereof which provide for non-compliance with this provision a ground for suspension or termination of the license," the letter says.

On Sunday, MTN Uganda for instance announced change of its daily data bundle prices. "All daily bundles have been replaced, giving you more volume for about the same price," the company announced.

Previously, 10 Megabytes (MBs) of data were sold at 300 Shillings but in the new tariff, it was reduced to 250 Shillings. The telephone company on the other hand increased data volume for 500 Shillings from 20 to 25 MBs and data for 1000 Shillings from 50 MBs to 60 MBs among other bundle volumes. The company also expanded its social bundle from Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter to include Instagram and SnapChat which also costs 500 Shillings per day.

UCC says its request was triggered by preliminary assessment of the current pricing of MTN Uganda retail prices which indicates that there have been changes without notifying the regulator. The request also comes at a time when MTN Uganda is facing a wrath from its customers who have been expressing their discontent on social media platforms claiming that they are cheated especially on the rate at which data gets depleted.

Addressing a conference of young innovators last week, ICT and National Guidance Minister Frank Tumwebaze revealed that government is interrogating factors pushing up data costs in Uganda. He said government will address data cost problems through a policy framework and regulations if necessary.

"On the cost of internet data, we are trying to interrogate and investigate the push factor for this. Is there connivance in the industry? Is it because of our location in the region? It is different in Rwanda, it is different in Kenya. We are interrogating why our data costs are high. If we find out that there is connivance in the industry, we shall use a regulation to intervene," he said.


NFA Officials In Trouble Over Illegal Timber Logging



Two officials of the National Forestry Authority-NFA have been suspended for their alleged involvement in illegal timber logging in Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Hoima district. They are Francis Madrama, the Kisindi Sector Manager based in Hoima and Paul Ochiengh, the Kidoma Section Supervisor of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Kizirafumbi Sub County.

Michael Mugisa, the NFA Executive Director Director asked the duo to vacate office in a June 19th 2017 letter to pave way for investigations into their alleged misconduct. The duo is accused of abetting illegal logging through connivance with timber dealers from Mukono district. "Reference is made to the field investigations, which reveal that you are carrying out illegal activities in Bugoma central forest reserve," reads part of the letter.

Adding that, "it is also alleged that you were involved in conniving with timber dealers from Mukono to carry out illegal timber harvesting in Bugoma central forest reserve contrary to the law and your contract with NFA as forest supervisor". He notes that the action of the officials has escalated the degradation of the forest, raising public concern and put the image of the government statutory body in disrepute.

A source at NFA told PRIME RADIO on condition of anonymity that the two officials appeared before the NFA disciplinary committee in Kampala on June 28, 2017 although a decision is yet to be reached on the matter. According to the source, the investigations of the two officials stemmed from public sentiments during a meeting organised by National Association of Professional Environmentalists-NAPE at Kabwoya Sub County on May 31, 2016. During the meeting that was covered by PRIME RADIO, residents accused NFA officials for abetting illegal logging.

They claimed that whenever they report illegal activities in the forests, instead of acting, the NFA officials threaten them with arrest. Both Francis Madrama and Paul Ochiengh couldn't be reached to comment on their suspension by the time of filing this story. Stuart Maniraguha, the Budongo Systems Range Manager who supervises the suspended officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred URN to Juliet Mubi, the NFA Public Relations Officer who wasn't available on phone.

Frank Muramuzi, the Executive Director National Association of Professional Environmentalists has welcomed the development, saying his organisation has not been happy with the way Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is being depleted through illegal logging. He however, asks NFA not to stop at arresting the two officials but conduct more investigations to unearth the mess that is leading to the loss of forest cover in the entire country. Uganda has lost over 1.5 million hectares of its forest cover due encroachment and illegal logging, according to NFA.


Parliament Constitutes Sectoral Committees



Parliament has finally constituted its Sectoral Committees for the Second Session. The process had stalled over disagreements on the deployment of opposition MP Maxwell Akora to a committee by the Government Chief Whip, Ruth Nankabirwa.

Akora, a member of Uganda People's Congress-UPC, had been designated as Vice Chairperson of the Committee on ICT. However, opposition MPs argued that his nomination by the ruling party was patronizing members of the opposition and negated parliamentary democracy, which provides for two sides of the House, with the latter checking the former.

The Deputy Speaker of Parliament Jacob Oulanyah then suspended the process to give the opposition time to consult on their nominations. But on Tuesday, Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa said she would proceed with the process since it was the opposition that needed time to consult.

The Deputy Opposition Whip Roland Mugume moved to designate Maxwell Akora to serve on the Committee on Information, Communication and Technology (ICT). Mugume did not assign the MP as Vice Chair of the Committee, a preserve of the NRM, the ruling party.

But Speaker Rebecca Kadaga insisted that Akora still serves as the Vice Chairperson of the Committee on ICT since this was the position he served in during the first session.

Upon ending the stalemate, Parliament approved the composition of the Sectoral Committees on Defence and Internal Affairs, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Natural Resources, Presidential Affairs, and the Agriculture committee.

The other constituted sectoral committees include Physical Infrastructure, Gender, Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Foreign Affairs, Public Service and Local Government, Tourism, Health and East African Affairs.

Parliament Rules of Procedure provide that the ruling party shall designate the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of each Sectoral Committee provided that no active Member of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) shall be designated Chairperson or Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs.

Government Chief Whip Nankabirwa designated Independent MP Annet Nyakecho representing Tororo North, as Chair of the Committee on ICT.

Sectoral Committees examine Bills brought to parliament before being debated in the larger plenary session. They examine government recurrent and capital budget estimates and make recommendations on them for general debate in the House.



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