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Fight over Shs44 trillion mobile money

Telecoms protest State House move to monitor business

Kampala, Uganda |  HAGGAI MATSIKO | A fight is raging between telecom operators on one side, and the Uganda Communications Commissions (UCC), the Uganda Police Force, and State House on the other, over moves to monitor the Shs44 trillion mobile money business.

At the heart of the fight is a push by President Yoweri Museveni to get full access of the telecom data systems through the multi-billion technology called Intelligence Network Monitoring System (INMS) that government put in place last year.

While Uganda has multiple telecom companies, the fight to defend business secrecy appears to have been left to the two telecom giants—MTN Uganda, which says it controls 55% of the telecom market share or about 11.2 million subscribers, and its main challenger; Airtel Uganda.

Although Museveni acquired the INMS to monitor mainly the data and voice operations of the telecoms, the current disagreements appear to stem from the push by government departments to pry into mobile money, which is the biggest cash cow of the telecoms. Mobile money, which has been growing very fast, had a value of Shs44 trillion at the end of 2016. That is what the Uganda Police, State House, and the Ministry of ICT want to get involved in.

Since telecoms started operating, they have been doing what is called self-declaration to the sector regulator, UCC. But with the entry of mobile money, which requires financial sector regulation, and the advent of cyber security and terrorism which implies roles for security agencies, several control wars have erupted.

At the centre of the fight are the telecom operators, the Inspector General of Police Gen. Kale Kayihura, President Museveni’s son, Maj. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who also doubles as the Presidential Advisor on Special Operations, ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze and sector regulator, UCC boss Godfrey Mutabazi.

The fight is an escalation of incidents from as early as November last year when UCC directed that telecoms grant the Uganda Police access to their Mobile Money operations data. The telecoms protested.

In a letter dated November 13, for instance, Airtel Uganda noted that from section 5(1) (u) of the UCC Act, the obligation and function to establish an INMS lies exclusively with the UCC and not the Uganda Police or any other department/agency of the Government of Uganda.

“We are not aware of any amendment to this provision or any other law or regulation that provides for INMS for Uganda Police,” notes V.G Somasekhar, the Airtel Executive Director in a letter to UCC.

Apart from this, Airtel noted, the Mobile Money services is regulated by Bank of Uganda under a different law and as such does not fall with in the category of services that should be monitored by UCC through the INMS created pursuant to section 5(1) (u) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013.

Airtel had earlier in an October 23, 2017, letter raised concerns about the legality of INMS being implemented by Uganda Police contrary to section 5(1) (u) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013.

In conclusion, Airtel said it would await the requisite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) among others, which would define among others; the technical requirements for UCC’s INMS; the parameters to be monitored by UCC through the INMS; the scope of information to be accessed by UCC through the INMS and the commercial terms in respect of Airtel’s resources that will be used by the UCC for the INMS and other related matters.

Insiders say MTN also raised some objections but was not as assertive as Airtel Uganda. Insiders suspect the telecom giant is not keen to stir up a storm with the government at a time when it is looking to get a renewal of its concession, which expires this year.

The Independent wrote emails to both MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda for a comment. The two had not responded by press time.

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