NEW MINISTERS TOUR UCC, PLEDGE SUPPORT-to ensure the sector stay ahead of the communication technology revolution

The Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Chris Baryomunsi, has revealed that his ministry is considering a range of reforms to keep pace with the fast-evolving communication technology trends.

Hon Dr Baryomunsi noted that communication technology is moving at such speed that there is a need to stay ahead of the revolution.

The minister made the revelation at the Uganda Communications Commission head office at Bugolobi on Thursday during his maiden visit to the regulatory agency in his new capacity.

HON. DR. CHRIS BARYOMUNSI – Minister for ICT & National Guidance

He was accompanied by Hon Godfrey Kabyanga, the minister of state for ICT & National Guidance (National Guidance), and the Permanent Secretary, Dr Amina Zawedde. The other minister of state in the ministry, Joyce Nabbosa Ssebugwawo, was unable to join the visiting team.

In a cabinet line-up announced in June 2021, following his re-election in January 2021, President Yoweri Museveni appointed an all-new set of ministers for the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.

The former minister Judith Nabakooba was appointed Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, while the Minister of State, Peter Ogwang, was appointed Minister of State for Economic Monitoring in the Office of the President.

Weeks later, President Museveni also made changes among the permanent secretaries, transferring Mr Vincent Bagiire Waiswa from the Ministry of ICT to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and replacing him with Dr Zawedde.

To familiarise themselves with their new docket, the new ministers and PS have been touring public agencies under their jurisdiction, and Thursday was UCC’s turn.

At its head office at Bugolobi, the trio accompanied by Mr Moses Watasa, a commissioner in the ministry, was welcomed by the top management led by the Ag. Executive Director Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, who led the visitors to the conference hall for an interface that lasted four hours.

Ag. Executive Director Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo explains the measurements on radio frequency (RF) emissions to support the evidence that masts and base stations are not dangerous to humans and the surrounding community

Following a presentation by the Ag. Executive Director detailing UCC functions, achievements and challenges, the visiting ministers and PS expressed satisfaction with the work of the Commission and pledged to support the agency to fulfil its mandate.

Noting that the UCC vision of “delivering an inclusive digital economy” is central to his ministry’s mandate, Dr Baryomunsi called on UCC and his ministry to work together towards that vision.

“We are here to support you,” he said, attracting applause from the small audience of mainly ministry and UCC top honchos.

On reforms, the minister revealed that his ministry is considering some legislative, administrative and policy measures “because we have to move fast and catch up with what is happening in terms of technology.”

Citing social media as one of the new challenges that call for such legislation, Dr Baryomunsi noted that nowadays, anybody with a phone becomes a media practitioner with the ability to disseminate anything, including insults, hate speech and misinformation.

“All these things call for regulation,” he said.

“We must be ahead of these issues if we are to manage this technology revolution.”

Earlier in her presentation titled, “Facilitating, enabling and promoting the coordinated and sustainable growth and development of Uganda’s communications sector,” the Ag. Executive Director had also called for social media regulation, saying it is now an industry-wide practise globally.

Regulation is not about being a policeman of the sector but rather facilitating, enabling and promoting the use of communications in the country; she pointed out.

Accordingly, the Ag. ED added, the Commission’s five-year strategy (2020/21-24/25) aims to, among other things, “increase communications user satisfaction,” which means reducing customer complaints substantially.

Outlining key achievements registered by the Commission over the years, she noted that mobile subscriptions had grown from 22.37m in 2016 to 27.78m in 2020, while internet subscriptions had grown from 8.04m in 2016 to 21.4m in 2020.

Turning to e-learning, one of the Commission’s flagship projects implemented through the Uganda Communications Universal Services Access Fund (UCUSAF), the Ag. Executive Director revealed that 200 school ICT laboratories had been established over the last five years, connecting over 95% of the Government aided secondary schools, tertiary institutions, and universities.

Ms Kaggwa Sewankambo also reported on more than 5,000 teachers and laboratory assistants’ retooling through the teacher retooling programme conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports.

On challenges, the Commission faces, the Ag. ED decried the inadequacy of complimentary services such as electricity required to support the roll-out and maintenance of ICT infrastructure across the country.

She also spoke of the technology change that necessitates expensive upgrades and acquisition of compliance equipment and the dynamic character of broadcasting and courier services that tend to complicate regulation.

Reacting to this concern, both ministers and the PS agreed to support the Commission in making a case for the 50% levy to be retained by the Commission.

The mostly interactive and humorous session also had the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance officials raising several questions about sector issues concerning UCC that were then answered by relevant senior UCC directors and the ED herself.

Senior UCC staff present included directors, Fred Otunnu (Corporate Affairs), Susan Wegoye (Legal Affairs), Haruna Musinguzi (Finance), Joyce Kasirye (Human Resource and Administration), Christine Mugimba (ICT & Research), James Beronda and Meddy Kaggwa (standing in for Nyombi Thembo, director of UCUSAF and Ag. Director Industry Affairs and Content Development).

On mobile money, the Ag. ED explained that following the enactment of the National Payment Systems Act, mobile money is now regulated by the Bank of Uganda. However, UCC maintains a limited role to play given that this is a financial service albeit transacted through a telecommunications platform.

Slow internet speeds also came up for discussion, with the Ag. ED explaining that COVID 19 got many people working at home, thus overwhelming the limited capacity service providers had provided for residential areas.

“With lockdowns, more people were spending more time at home, and this called for increased capacity, which involves upgrading systems and takes time to achieve,” she explained.

Ms Kaggwa Sewankambo then informed her audience that the Commission had recently introduced an app known as NetQ-UG that helps consumers measure the speed they experience while browsing the internet.

In his brief remarks, Hon Kabyanga disclosed that having been mayor of Kasese for ten years, he had witnessed UCC work first-hand, noting that three schools in his area benefited from the e-learning programme.

The minister of state praised the good working relationship between the Commission and the ministry, saying it should be consolidated and nurtured even further.

“We want to boast of more beautiful achievements in our term,” he declared.

“I’m sure we shall not go back the same in terms of what UCC does,” added his boss, Dr Baryomunsi.

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