KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has criticised the telecommunications regulator after it slashed MTN Uganda’s fee for renewing its telecoms licence, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
Local media reported on Tuesday that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) had decided to charge MTN Uganda, which is owned by South Africa’s MTN Group, $58 million to renew its licence for 10 years, instead of $100 million originally set for the renewal. MTN Uganda is the country’s biggest telecoms operator.
President Museveni, in a letter to the communications minister and the attorney general dated Nov. 19 and seen by Reuters on Tuesday, said he was “astonished” by UCC’s decision to cut the charge to $58 million.
The minister for information, communication, technology and national guidance, in a letter in response dated Dec. 14, said UCC had decided to cut MTN’s fee to $58 million from $100 million after MTN said it would need to invest about $200 million to meet the conditions of a new national broadband policy.
The policy compels telecom operators to invest in infrastructure to guarantee high quality voice calls and high data speeds across the country, including in rural areas where returns are low, the minister said in the letter seen by Reuters.
MTN Uganda has more than 10 million subscribers and competes chiefly with India’s Bharti Airtel.
Museveni, in his Nov. 19 letter, said that during its 20 years of operation MTN Uganda had “reaped vast profits, most of which have obviously been repatriated.”
“The company’s obligation to sow where it intends to reap for the next 10 years, as well as its ability to do so are and cannot be in doubt.”
Don Wanyama, the president’s spokesman said he was unaware of the letter and could not comment on it.
MTN’s 20-year license expired last October. The firm applied for a 10-year extension and UCC gave it an interim renewal lasting 60-days pending resolution of some issues before a final license is issued.
Ugandan authorities have said MTN has agreed to list its shares on Uganda’s local bourse as a condition to renewing its license although the firm itself is yet to confirm this.
Without naming any companies, Museveni has previously accused some telecom firms in Uganda of cheating his government by underdeclaring revenues from calls.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Susan Fenton