Technology to enable govt eavesdrop in international calls, deal with billion dollar telecom fraud
President Yoweri Museveni’s staffers at State House are in the final stages of procuring technology that could enable the government to break a billion-dollar mushrooming telecom fraud and also eavesdrop on international calls, The Independent reports exclusively. The technology, called an Intelligent Network Monitoring/verification System (INMS), will cost the Ugandan taxpayer between $20-30 million (Shs. 66 billion—99 billion) and is expected to, for the first time, enable the country monitor the volume and billing of voice and data traffic of telecoms.
While Uganda has technology capabilities to eavesdrop on local calls, international calls and international communications by-pass fraud have been off its radar. Aware of this, some dubious individuals have skimmed billions of shillings off illegal re-routing on international calls. Individuals seeking to transmit sensitive information have also been using international lines, thereby, minimising risks of local eavesdropping.
Insiders say that, for President Museveni, the biggest motivation to procure the INMS technology is its security features; including the eavesdropping capability. This technology will also bring the government closer to knowing how much money exactly telecoms make in their operations.
Since telecoms started operating, they have been doing what is called self-declaration to the sector regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).
As such, UCC and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) have been levying fees and taxes based on what the telecoms say they earned.
UCC, for example, collects an annual levy on telecoms gross revenue of 2 percent. The levy constituted 27% of UCC’s projected revenues in the financial year 2014/2015. And UCC is required to remit 1% of the operators’ of this levy to the Consolidated Fund.
In the 2015 report published this year, the Auditor General, John Muwanga, added his voice to those that have raised a red flag on the regulator’s reliance on the operators audited financial statements to raise invoices of the 2% levy on the revenue. The Auditor General noted that a review of the revenue collection system revealed that the UCC has not yet built capacity to independently verify the revenue figures reflected in the operators audited financial statements to counter the likelihood of audit risk/ or collusion.
“As such, there is a risk of under collecting revenue for the Commission in the circumstance,” the Auditor General’s report said.
In his audit, the AG noted that the regulator said that procurement of a traffic monitoring system is on-going and will enable monitoring of telecom traffic and verification of revenues submitted by operators.
A month-long investigation by The Independent has learnt that the procurement of the INMS, which is expected to also deal with this, was for years kept off the table because of an intense fight between Uganda’s major procurement brokers over who gets the deal. The process moved recently when President Museveni intervened.