Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Picture: REUTERS
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Picture: REUTERS

Kampala — Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni has criticised the telecommunications regulator after it slashed MTN Uganda's fee for renewing its telecoms licence, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

Local media reported on Tuesday that the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) had decided to charge MTN Uganda, which is owned by SA's MTN Group, $58m to renew its licence for 10 years, instead of $100m originally set for the renewal. MTN Uganda is the country's biggest telecoms operator.

Museveni, in a letter to the communications minister and the attorney-general dated November 19, said he was "astonished" by UCC's decision to cut the charge to $58m.

In a letter in response dated December 14, the minister for information, communication, technology and national guidance, said UCC had decided to cut MTN's fee to $58m from $100m after MTN said it would need to invest about $200m to meet the conditions of a new national broadband policy.

The policy compels telecom operators to invest in infrastructure to guarantee high-quality voice calls and high data speeds across the country, including in rural areas where returns are low, the minister said in the letter.

MTN Uganda has more than 10-million subscribers and competes chiefly with India's Bharti Airtel.

Museveni, in his November 19 letter, said that during its 20 years of operation, MTN Uganda had “reaped vast profits, most of which have obviously been repatriated”.

“The company's obligation to sow where it intends to reap for the next 10 years, as well as its ability to do so are and cannot be in doubt.”

Don Wanyama, the president's spokesperson, said he was unaware of the letter and could not comment on it.

MTN's 20-year licence expired in October. The firm applied for a 10-year extension and UCC gave it an interim renewal lasting 60-days pending resolution of some issues before a final licence is issued.

Ugandan authorities have said MTN has agreed to list its shares on Uganda's local bourse as a condition to renewing its licence although the firm itself is yet to confirm this.

Without naming any companies, Museveni has previously accused some telecom firms in Uganda of cheating his government by underdeclaring revenues from calls.