Uganda Telecom Ltd (UTL) assets and sites across the country are being vandalised by some unscrupulous people that Internal Security Organisation (ISO) has linked to likely sabotage of government’s efforts to revive the telecom company.
Saturday Monitor understands that at least 20 masts and sites across the country have been vandalised, with copper network cables stolen over unspecified period of time.
A leaked report by the director general of ISO to Information and ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze early this week says the UTL copper cables are stolen and smuggled to feed the black market in Kenya.
“Information received from credible sources indicate that there is ongoing vandalism of UTL Copper network cables in the country. The signal so far points to possible sabotage by elements not happy with the ongoing government efforts to revive the UTL” the report by Col Frank Kaka Bagyenda reads, in part.
On reaching Kenya, the ISO findings indicate the cables are then sold to some unnamed companies, which re-melt them for other industrial production of copper products.
The vandalised UTL sites, with the majority in Kampala Metropolitan Area, and Jinja Town, are in areas with maximum security.
Other sites are in Masindi, Kabale, and Lira municipalities.
In Kampala, ISO says, the UTL sites are at Nsambya, Kampala’s central business district, Makerere, Wandegeya, Kamwokya, Muyenga, Kyambogo, Mengo, Mbuya and Industrial Area. While in Entebbe, the sites already vandalised are on Airport and State House roads.
The UTL sites targeted in Jinja Town are on Nizam Road, St James Church Road, Inpsectorare of Government (IGG) regional offices, Marwa Flats, Masere Road, Engano Millers Road, Engineer Zikusooka Road, Nalufenya Police Road, Ambar Court Road and Bugembe Road.
At least 17,500 pairs of copper network cables, with a total length of 10,742 metres, are reported to have been stolen from the sites named above.
The report does not indicate the amount of money UTL could have lost as a result of the malicious acts.
Col Bagyenda, who says President Museveni has been briefed on the matter, says their findings also show that in spite of some suspects being arrested in some of the areas, security managers within UTL have slept on the job, hence failing the investigations.
“We have observed that whenever suspects are arrested and detained, some UTL security managers are reluctant to follow up the cases to a logical conclusion. Therefore, there is need for the relevant minister to compel them to act if this vice is to be stopped,” Col Bagyenda wrote.
Our sources were not in position to divulge the specific cases of vandalism and theft of network cables where suspects have been set free following reluctance by UTL security managers in following up the matter.
But we understand ISO has now launched a wide probe into the vice that threatens the provision of telecommunications and Internet services across the country.
Minister Tumwebaze denied knowledge of the ISO report despite the leaks showing that his office had received a copy.
Mr Tumwebaze, who is also the government spokesperson, referred us to junior Finance minister in charge of Privatisation and Investment, Ms Evelyn Anite, as the person under whose docket UTL is managed.
Efforts to reach Ms Anite for a comment by press time were futile as her known telephone contacted was not accessible.
UTL is the sole provider of Internet services to government ministries, departments and agencies, but it is not yet clear whether this vandalism has affected this arrangement.
Government also risks losing data to vandals
In January last year, Mr Museveni directed that UTL network be revamped and used to restore government data.
The claims of vandalism of the assets come only a few days after court last week ordered UTL audit.
As a result of the court order, the Office of the Auditor General has since taken over the audit from Internal Auditor General (Dr Fixon Okonye). Mr John Muwanga is expected to hold entry meeting with UTL administrator on Monday or Tuesday before he meets officials in the Ministry of Finance to discuss the terms of reference. Court had given Mr Muwanga 30 days to conclude the audit. UTL has not been audited for three years now.
For several months now, UTL, that is under Administration since May 2017, has been at the centre of fights between top government officials over whether an audit should be carried out or not.
The fight has pitted Ms Anite, who wanted the removal of the Registrar General of Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), Mr Twebaze Bemanya, who is the Administrator of UTL, to pave way for a forensic audit.
Ms Anite has openly accused Mr Bemanya of obstructing her ministry from supervising UTL activities, incomes and expenditures, hence frustrating accountability to government.
Libyans pull out. After the majority shareholders, the Libyans left UTL, which was crumpling under the weight of heavy debts worth over Shs700b, government, which holds 31 per cent shares, has been on the hunt for an investor to take over the company. In January, government pulled out of a deal with Taleology Holdings Ltd, a Nigerian firm, that had in October last year been handed the deal but failed to pay up the Shs268b within the agreed period of three months.