Kampala — A simmering feud between Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) and National Information and Technology Authority - Uganda (NITA-U)has erupted into a fight over a multi-billion government Internet deal after the former asked the latter to stop connecting public offices, including districts.
After losing the deal to UTL, NITA-U officials are fighting back in the face of a presidential directive on the matter.
They have apparently refused to surrender the Internet deal and opted to shrug off strict orders in President Museveni's January 9 letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Ruhakana Rugunda.
The reference to talks between UTL and NITA-U has, however, been 'rubbished' by sources in the Prime Minister's Office who said such discussions, attempt to 're-write' the presidential directive, requiring all ministries, agencies and departments (MDAs) to switch to UTL network for Internet and other services.
Matters worsened after NITA-U boss James Saaka in an April 17 letter titled: "Notice for indebtedness to UTL (In administration)" asked UTL's administrator Bemanya Twebaze to stop connections of MDAs already connected to the National Backbone Infrastructure/E-Government Infrastructure.
Mr Saaka indicated that "this results in double expenditure by the government of Uganda".
He also instructed Mr Bemanya to seek prior authorisation from NITA-U for any future connections of MDAs.
This has, however, infuriated UTL managers, who on Monday wrote back, reminding Mr Saaka that his attempts to stop UTL from connecting government offices, is "non-negotiable" since they are implementing a presidential directive.
Earlier, UTL had on March 14 wrote to NITA-U managers, reminding them to pay outstanding bills by MDAs amounting to a tune of Shs1.3b. This amount, however, covers MDAs whose costs were consolidated under NITA-U in FY2017/18.
"Please note that we shall only pay for the MDAs whose budgets were consolidated by NITA-U and are not receiving services by NITA-U. Any future connections to be billed to NITA-U should be authorised prior to the connection," Mr Saaka wrote to UTL officials.
However, Mr Bemanya said: "Several government agencies have already crossed to UTL and they are happy with our services. We are implementing a presidential directive that is non-negotiable. As long as an accounting officer for a given agency gives a go ahead, we don't need any further authorisation from anyone."
NITA-U officials have reviewed the invoices provided by UTL's credit control team and noted a number of issues which they want rectified before payment is made.
For instance, some invoices were not accompanied by valid contracts and the service order forms do not indicate the services subscribed to nor the monthly rate applied to the services.
Under these circumstances, Mr Saaka wrote: "It is impossible to reconcile the invoices against non-existing prices and/or services provided."
The managers at UTL, however, derided Mr Saaka's observation as "delaying tactics" and by extension, "kicks of a dying horse" in the face of an 'irrefutable' presidential directive. They also asked NITA-U officials to accept defeat and move on and vowed to continue connecting government agencies.
Mr Saaka has also proposed that the agencies sign a Memorandum of Understanding against which the payment of Shs1.3b can be effected.
Uganda Telecom officials, however, rejected this and advised Mr Saaka to re-read Mr Museveni's letter on UTL.
In his January 9 letter, Mr Museveni wrote off UTL debts to a tune of Shs200b and ordered all government institutions to procure all Internet and other related services from UTL.
The President said this will save the company from what he called a group of corrupt officials who 'sucked' UTL dry through self-enrichment with huge salaries and had plotted to devalue its assets worth Shs148 billion.
On April 13, Investment minister Evelyn Anite wrote to 600 MDAs and clarified that 166 out of 218 agencies contacted by UTL had complied with the directive.
She gave those that had not complied up to the end of this month to switch to the UTL network.
Ms Anite has also written to the Secretary to Treasury to stop sending Internet budget to NITA-U since most of the MDAs have shifted to UTL.