It is not often that communications service providers and their regulator jointly subject themselves to public questioning regarding service delivery.
The Communications Consumer Parliament in Lira Town last Friday provided this rare opportunity. As the more than three hundred people who turned up at Margaritha Palace Hotel can testify, the 10th Consumer Parliament lived up to its billing.
Running under the theme, Be Right, Know Your Rights, it was one of the most engaging to date, with consumers putting the top telecom company’s executives to task on matters regarding quality of service.
MTN, Airtel, UTL, Africell and Courier operators were among the service providers represented, as Consumer Advocacy Organisations presented consumers’ complaints through their well-articulated petition. Consumer groups that included Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), Commonwealth People’s Association of Uganda (CPAUG), Uganda Consumer Association Network (U-CAN) and I-NETWORK were well represented.
The Consumer Parliament is a unique initiative that facilitates interaction and constructive engagement between consumers and providers of telecommunications services.
It is constructed to mimic a real parliament, providing a platform where people’s representatives raise issues that concern them and demand accountability from the regulator and service providers. As in the national Parliament, the Consumer Parliament is moderated by a Speaker who, in Lira’s case was Brigadier (rtd) Charles Wacha.
Explaining the genesis of the Consumer Parliament, the UCC Executive Director Mr Godfrey Mutabazi said it was introduced in 2014 as part of activities to celebrate the annual World Consumer Rights Day (WRCD), which is marked every March 15. Having started as an annual event, the Consumer Parliament has since grown to at least three times a year following public demand for more.
Mr Mutabazi outlined the objectives of the event, which he said are to:
- Provide consumers with an opportunity to express their concerns in relation to the theme
- To enable service providers to address consumer issues as required of them
- To strengthen dialogue and elicit consumer views and input to regulatory policies and programmes
- To promote consumer awareness and protect the interests of the consumer.
“Our regulatory policy is informed by the belief that the best way to protect consumers is to empower them with adequate information, and to provide them with a channel to redress complaints,” he said.
As such, the Commission demands that all licensed service providers, especially telecoms, set up a toll-free number to receive complaints from the customers, and to handle the issues within an agreed duration of time, Mr Mutabazi explained.
In the event that the customer is not satisfied, they can report directly to UCC through its toll free line 0800 222 777, email address; firstname.lastname@example.org, website; www.ucc.co.ug or file the complaint in person at the Commission’s offices in Kampala, Masindi, Gulu, Mbale and Mbarara.
“Our consumer protection unit maintains a record of the number of complaints received and of the top issues that are reported each day so that actions can be taken promptly,” the UCC ED said.
Reporting on 2018, Mr Mutabazi said the Commission received over 2,000 complaint submissions. Of these, he explained, 89% were resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant. The top five issues complained about were SIM card registration, mobile money services, cybercrime and fraud, incorrect billing, and poor quality services.
Mr Mutabazi noted that the 2018 complaints represent a tiny fraction of the consumer numbers in the communications sector in Uganda, adding that many people are not aware of their rights as consumers or not conversant with the reporting mechanisms, something initiatives such as the Consumer Parliament seek to address.
“We will not stop striving to continue to improve our regulations and processes, to help telecom users in Uganda benefit the most from ICT services. At the UCC, solving problems for consumers is our happiness,” he said.
Besides UCC staff, telecoms, consumer NGOs and members of the public, the Consumer Parliament was attended by local leaders, including Paul Amoru Omiat, the Dokolo North MP who is also Vice Chairman of the ICT parliamentary committee, the RDC of Alebtong Josephine Omara, the RDC of Lira Milton Odong and Lira LC-V Chairman George Okello, among others.
Earlier, Mr Mutabazi made a courtesy call on Dr Obote College, one of the schools supported by the UCC through the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF).
Here, the Executive Director was excited to learn that Dr Obote College has built on the support from UCC and expanded their computer lab capacity to the extent that the school now serves some of its less privileged neighbours. For students of Dr Obote College, the tour was an opportunity to show off their ICT skills to mesmerised visitors.
Leading up to the Consumer Parliament, UCC Consumer Affairs staff and telecom providers had spent days in the Lango sub-region interacting with consumers of all categories in schools, markets and other public spaces in what is dubbed Consumer Help Camps.
Below is a pictotorial of the event;