Kampala. President Museveni and MTN team yesterday agreed to assemble a joint team to conduct a review of telephone calls traffic and the re-licensing terms.
The President met the MTN team led by the company group Chief Executive Officer, Mr Rob Shuter, at the sidelines of the just concluded 2019 Africa Now Summit at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo in Kampala.
The MTN-Uganda Chairman, Mr Charles Mbire, also attended the meeting that took place in a VIP tent at the Resort Marina, the venue for the Africa summit. Mr Museveni had earlier met Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto in the same tent.
Although the wider details of a one-hour meeting including the recent deportation of the telecom’s four senior staff members remain confidential, the President according to a State House statement, accepted to meet MTN bosses later this month.
The details of the planned review of calls traffic remains hush-hush. The meeting took place at a time when MTN-Uganda is pushing to have its licence renewed amid accusations of under declaring its call volume and therefore cheating taxes, a claim the company managers deny.
Expiry of license
The MTN’s second interim licence expired on January 20. At the end of January MTN was given a 60-day provisional licence as negotiations continue to secure a 20-year-licence. The company’s 20-year-licence expired on October 20, 2018.
The meeting with the President also came after the government deported four MTN staff they accused of undermining national security.
MTN Uganda chief executive officer Wim Vanhelleputte, the telecom’s chief marketing officer, Olivier Prentout [French], Italian Elsa Mussolini, the general manager for mobile money and Annie Tabura [Rwandan], the general manager for sales and distribution were deported in January.
Mr Shuter, had to cut short his interview with the media to rush and meet the President.
In the press conference, the MTN boss described the deportations as “unfortunate” and indicated that they didn’t know why the MTN officials were deported by the government.
“For us, it very unfortunate that some of our people were deported. Our engagements with the authorities has been to say-- we respect the process. We would very much want to understand more details on specific issues to see if we can take action on our side,” Mr Shuter said.
Asked whether he would take the same message to President Museveni, he said: “The message generally is to help us understand what our people did wrong so that we know if we must take action,”
The meeting with Mr Museveni was also attended by Ebenezer Twum Asante, the VP for South and East Africa, Felleng Sekha, the Group Chief Regulatory Affairs Officer.
According to State House statement, the President urged the company “to support Uganda’s economy” and reasoned that “a stronger Uganda would make better business sense for the telecom.”
“You are providing a service but note that we want Africa to develop. You will do more business in a prosperous Africa, not one on the periphery,” said the President, adding: “Africa’s GDP is $6 trillion while the US is $19 trillion and yet the US is much smaller than Africa. We should be five times richer. MTN, therefore, should not be part of the haemorrhage of Africa. You must be part of enabling production.”
The President said: “MTN is an African company and I support it. However, let us not have lopsided development, with a modern telephone system but the rest of economy underdeveloped.”
In the meeting, the President also cautioned the telecom officials against falling prey to corrupt government officials.
“There are corrupt people in my system, and if they are asking you for money, please report to me. I will deal with them,” the President said.
Building strong institutions
Mr Mbire, assured the President of the company’s commitment to work with his government and promised to continue investing in Uganda.
“We thank President Museveni and the government for the conducive investment environment which has enabled MTN invest $1 billion in Uganda in the last 20 years,” Mr Mbire said.
Meanwhile, after meeting Museveni, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto said East African Community needs to build strong institutions to stop retrogression that may arise because of political differences.
Mr Ruto, however, said EAC has got what it takes to resolve the current diplomatic tension between Rwanda and Uganda.
“ We have got what it takes as East Africans to resolve any dispute that may arise between sister states to ensure that the momentum we have gathered towards integration is not lost or reversed by the challenges that keep rising,” he said.
Later in the evening, President Museveni, his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, and Tanzanian Vice President Samia Hassan Suluhu constituted a panel of discussants on trade and investment in Africa.
Mr Museveni told the delegates that Africa can only be secured through integration to build a strong market.
The Somali President said Uganda hosts more than 50,000 Somali refugees who become self-reliant because of Uganda’s open door policy to the refugees.