By AMBROSE GAHENE
The new 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.
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 (UCC) Head office at Bugolobi in Kampala, during his maiden visit to the regulatory agency in his new capacity recently.
Minister Baryomunsi was welcomed at UCC Head office by the Ag Executive Director, Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, who led the visitors to the conference hall for an interface that lasted four hours.
Following a presentation by the Ag Executive Director, Sewankambo, detailing UCC functions, achievements, and challenges, the visiting minister and Permanent Secretary, Aminah Zawedde, expressed satisfaction with the work of the Commission and pledged to support the agency to fulfill its mandate.
Noting that UCC’s 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. We must be ahead of these issues if we are to manage this technology revolution”, he said.
Earlier in her presentation titled; “Facilitating, enabling and promoting the coordinated and sustainable growth and development of Uganda’s communications sector,” Ms. Sewankambo called for social media regulation, saying it is now an industry widely practiced 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. She said 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 money subscriptions had grown from 22.37 million in 2016 to 27.78 million in 2020, while internet subscriptions had grown from 8.04 million in 2016 to 21.4 million in 2020.
Turning to e-learning, one of the Commission’s flagship projects implemented through the Uganda Communications Universal Services Access Fund (UCUSAF), Ms. Sewankambo revealed that 200 school ICT laboratories had been established over the last five years, connecting over 95 percent of the Government aided secondary schools, tertiary institutions, and universities.
Ms Sewankambo also reported on more than 5,000 teachers and laboratory assistants’ retooling through the teacher retooling program conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports.
On challenges the Commission faces, she 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, Minister Baryomunsi agreed to support the Commission in making a case for the 50 percent levy to be retained by the Commission.
On mobile money, Ms Sewankambo explained that; following the enactment of the National Payment Systems Act, mobile money is now regulated by Bank of Uganda (BoU). 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 UCC Ag executive director 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. She 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 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. Aminah Zawedde.To familiarize themselves with their new docket, the new ministers and Permanent Secretary have been touring public agencies under their jurisdiction.