The affairs of Uganda Telecom, one of the major telecom companies co-owned by the government of Uganda and the Libyan government, hit the headlines around the start of 2017.
This came after Budadiri West MP Hon. Nandala Mafabi petitioned Parliament alleging widespread irregularities in the management of the company including asset stripping, insider trading and a skyrocketing debt eating into the Company’s coffers. Hon. Mafabi indicated that the mismanagement could have cost shareholders some Ughs700 billion.
The petition prompted the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, to constitute a seven-member Select Committee to probe the management and operations of UTL and to also investigate the state of health of UTL; to determine its economic value and also advise on whether government should continue holding shares in the company.
As part of its inquiry, the committee undertook a fact-finding mission to Dubai to meet with Dr. Faisel Gergab, the Chairman of Libyan Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Holding Company (LPTIC) also known as Lap Green, the majority shareholders in UTL.
Gergab reassured Parliament that UTL still has a future and that the company would soon come up with a transformational plan that would go a long way to significantly boost the company’s existing services.
“I am confident that UTL still has significant potential and a great opportunity within the world to provide high quality services,” Dr. Gergab said.
Dr. Gergab said this while meeting members of the Select Committee on UTL at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) on Sunday 19th February 2016.
Hon. Okin Ojara (Ind., Chua West), the Committee Chairperson explained to the meeting that the Select Committee moved to Dubai to meet with the UTL majority shareholders and Board members whose offices are currently located in Dubai.
Ojara further asked the majority shareholders to tell the Committee whether they still had interest in the company, given the nature in which they were handling transactions even when they knew it was on the verge of collapse.
In response, Dr. Gergab informed members that LPTIC and the Libyan Government were still willing to work with the Ugandan Government to transform UTL into a leading universal telecoms service provider, and promised that by the end of 2017, UTL will be completely different and a transformed company in Uganda, if issues of lack of clear strategy, over staffing and under funding among others are solved.
He further thanked members of the Select Committee for the commitment, transparency and objectivity, which they have exhibited during their investigation.
He informed the committee members that he was more than ready to cooperate and work with Parliament to solve the UTL challenges, and to do away with those involved in the rot currently going on in UTL.
“This meeting has been quite insightful on both sides. We have agreed to work together to solve the problems of UTL and to improve it for the good of Ugandan consumers,” Dr. Gergab said.
Hon. William Nzoghu (FDC, Busongora North) put it to the majority shareholders to explain why their Managers were using supersonic speed to acquire new land titles, and to cancel the old ones.
In response, Steven Kaboyo, the Chairperson of UTL Board informed the Committee that they were looking for land tittles as a common business strategy to have a proper value in the market for all their assets.
Kaboyo further blamed the problems of UTL on the minority shareholders (Uganda government) for the too much bureaucracy they have in decision making, and also the failure to pay over UShs 16 billion in government entities.
“UTL demands lot of money in terms of services offered to government entities. We are now working with the Secretary to Treasury to start deducting this money at source and we shall also disconnect those who haven’t paid just like we have done to Uganda Police,” he said.
Hon. Thomas Tayebwa (NRM, Ruhinda North) on his part however, informed the Management of LAP Green that the Committee was not taking any allegations as true, and said that information collected in the meeting was to be investigated so as to make a well balanced report, and have the recommendations reported back to Parliament.
“After meeting all parties, we shall be in a better position to write a well-balanced report. We promise you that we are taking nothing for gospel truth until the investigations are complete,” he said.
Hon. Paula Turyahikayo (NRM, Rubabo) thanked members of the UTL Board for their cooperation and informed them that the Committee was yet to meet a few more people as winds up the investigation.
“Our visit to Dubai has been informative, and will add a lot of value to the investigation,” she said.
The Committee concluded their tour by visiting the offices of LAP Green since one of the allegations against the Company was that they didn’t have offices in Dubai.
Despite recent challenges, UTL continues to provide vital services across the spectrum for consumers, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and large corporate enterprises.
Established in 1988, UTL is one of the longest-running telecom operators in Uganda. LPTIC via its subsidiary LAP-Green holds 69% majority shareholding in UTL whilst the Ugandan Government holds a minority 31% shareholding in the company.