Government has "technically lost control" of Uganda Telecom, the state minister for Investment and Privatization Evelyn Anite has revealed.
Anite told MPs on Thursday that when the Nigerian firm was contracted to revamp UTL, Taleology Holdings GIB Ltd failed to meet its contractual obligations of investing Shs 268 billion in the telecom as agreed, Bemanya Twebaze the registrar general of Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) remained as the administrator of UTL having been appointed in 2017.
However, Twebaze has since reportedly refused UTL operations to be audited by the auditor general John Muwanga saying that he can only report to court.
“The watchman [administrator] has stopped the owner [government] from accessing the company,” said Anite in an analogy.
During the plenary session, Aringa South MP, Alioni Yorke Odria tabled shocking documents indicating that government’s efforts to carry out accountability audits in UTL have been blocked by the administrator whom he described as an illegal operator.
Government has 31 per cent shares in UTL. Taleology were contracted in October 2018 and came as a replacement to Ucom Limited, a Libya based company that owned 69 per cent shares but pulled out in February 2017 after mismanagement of the telecom.
It was after Ucom’s departure that government-appointed Twebaze as administrator of UTL to avoid its liquidation. Odria told parliament that UTL currently owes creditors including pensioners, loans over Shs 534 billion.
"Rt. Hon speaker when this company, we had a financial intelligence report which came out on 25th May 2018 and in this financial intelligence report, the authority made it clear that this company [Taleology] have no national business report anywhere, they have no clear source of funding anywhere in the world. And when they came here, I’m told the minister Finance had an agreement with them where they were to invest $70 million in three months. Rt Hon speaker, it is over a year that this company has not even invested one single dollar." said Odria.
He said that despite reports indicating that UTL is making profits, the administrator is not giving way for any accountability from September 2017. Odria revealed that government currently has no accountability about the operations of UTL. According to Odria, available information indicates that UTL made 5% monthly profits in 2017 raking in at least Shs 4.2bn between April 2017 to September 2017. Odria says UTL is now making profits amounting to Shs 14bn monthly but the administrator has completely refused the company to be audited.
"What is our concern? The administrator does not give way for accountability. Nobody in this country knows how much money they are making monthly. Ministry of Finance made a request to auditor general to come and do audit of UTL. Up to today there is no single audit report from the auditor generals office about operations of UTL." Odria added.
Responding to the queries by MPs, Anite revealed that she met with the attorney general William Byaruhanga, Finance minister Matia Kasaija and secretary to treasury Keith Muhakanizi to forge a way forward on how to get accountability from UTL administrator.
She says that in January this year, the Finance minister wrote a letter to the auditor general John Muwanga demanding an audit to be carried out on UTL having gone under administration. According to Anite, the AG wrote back saying that he could not audit the company because it was a court led process.
"As the minister responsible and holding the shares in trust, I know that this company belongs to Ugandans. I raised concern and I said if I cannot be allowed to have access and the auditor general says he cannot audit, what we can do is since this UTL is under ministry of Finance, we should get an internal auditor to audit this company. The administrator wrote back to me and Hon Matia [Kasaija] saying that he cannot allow the internal audit of ministry of Finance to go and audit this company because he can only account to the court…at that point we had nothing to do." said Anite.
Anite also explained how the Taleology was awarded the contract in October 2018 to manage UTL over the state-founded Mauritius Telecom which had financial capability and muscle to run the company. She said that contracting Taleology was based on its higher proposal to invest in the company.
She said that for not having money to invest in UTL, Taleology technically left shortly after it had been contracted but what is perturbing government is that it does not know the status of the company and how it is operating.
"And the attorney general as of this morning said he’s going to consult and get back to us. Madam speaker it is just very clear that even pensioners are asking us, workers have been fired from the UTL. As the majority and only shareholder of the company, I want to say technically we have lost control of the company." added Anite.
Speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga noted that parliament has previously made recommendations about UTL demanding that government presents a treasury memorandum on resolutions made about UTL. Kadaga wondered why Uganda is being treated like a public toilet by people she she didn't mention. She was supported by Okot Ogong, the Dokolo South MP who said that whatever is happening in UTL is broad day theft.
Ogong said indeed government treats parliament like a toilet because it doesn't respect the recommendations made. Ogong said they way money is being swindled in UTL is a shame in mafia style. Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal further revealed that the administrator has failed to comply with all regulations of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and that there was a need to terminate the administrator’s contract immediately.
"I have a document in my hands authored by Uganda Communications Commission telling the country that this administrator has failed to comply with all the regulations - all the regulations. How do you manage a public company when you’re failing to prove that you’re in compliance with the regulation. This is a deliberate defiance of the rules and regulations of the country. We need to terminate the contract of the administrator now." Ogwal said.
Ogwal said given the fact that UTL was given the monopoly to supply voice and data services to all government institutions and agencies, it is clear that the company is making profits but these profits are being swindled.
Kasilo County MP Elijah Okupa questioned the process which awarded the contract to Taleology demanding that the auditor general carries out a forensic audit on UTL, saying people within the company are busy selling the assets to themselves. Kadaga said that she will give her ruling on the matter on Tuesday after studying the documents presented before parliament.