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Developing the ICT Lobby Agenda PDF Print E-mail

 Mr. Paul Asiimwe, is a prominent telecoms and ICT lawyer in town, also the legal mind behind the creation of the Uganda ICT Consumer Protection Association (UICPA), an ICT consumer rights lobby group.  He spoke to Edris Kisambira and here below are the excerpts.

Qn: What is the Uganda ICT Consumer Protection Association (UICPA) about and what does it hope to achieve?

The UICPA is seeking to be an intermediary between consumers and providers of ICT products and services. We hope to bridge the information gap between consumers of these products and their providers which include  MTN, Zain, Uganda Telecom, Warid, Nokia, Microsoft, Dell and others.

 


 

 

 

 

 

To put it another way, a lot of users experience problems with products such as mobile phones yet often those mobile phones’ warranties are not respected by the vendors/sellers.

In Uganda, the most common problems have to do with quality of service. UICPA will hopefully work with the regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the service providers to come up with a hybrid complaints system. I say hybrid because both parties-providers and regulators- have complaint procedures but the only problem is none of those procedures have been able to meet expectations of users in terms of real timeliness or quality of response.

For instance in the case of an Internet connection, if there is going to be downtime from the service provider, which by the way happens all the time in this market, the consumers should be compensated not in monetary terms but in the time that was lost when the connection was down. Some can argue that when a user does not pay their bills on time, the provider loses money but how about the consumer?

Providers only think about payment of their bills but the service leaves a lot to be desired too. Consumers have to stand up to their rights because service providers continue to offer a poor service.

 

Qn: How do you hope to achieve this?

UICPA sees itself working hand in hand with the regulators of ICT products and services and since ICT products like software are not produced in this country, we will be looking at imported products.

Although UNBS is mandated to ensure that products meet quality standards, we think UICPA can bring valuable advice to the discussion relating to counterfeit ICT products. In that respect, we see a partnership with owners of valuable brands like Nokia, Microsoft and so on.

My view is that through respecting the intellectual property rights of the various actors, we will help consumers who have derived value for money in the use of those products to continue using products that exhibit quality that is consistent with those brand names. So in as much as we will voice concerns on quality of service for voice and data, I see UICPA also campaigning against importers of fake ICT products.

The other issue we are looking at is to have a creative dialogue with policy makers and regulators in shaping policy that governs the ICT sector.

Qn: What has prompted the formation of this lobby group?

UICPA has grown out of the absence of a competition authority in this country.  In other countries, competition authorities play a big role in vetting mergers and acquisitions and minimizing market dominance in various sectors. This minimizes price fixing and other forms of collusion, which negatively impact on the prices of goods and services.

The other issue we are looking at is to have a creative dialogue with policy makers and regulators in shaping policy that governs the ICT sector.

Qn: What has prompted the formation of this lobby group?

UICPA has grown out of the absence of a competition authority in this country.  In other countries, competition authorities play a big role in vetting mergers and acquisitions and minimizing market dominance in various sectors. This minimizes price fixing and other forms of collusion, which negatively impact on the prices of goods and services.

The ICT sector is key to the growth of this economy so it is important that the products developed and used in this sector are stable and capable of meeting expectations of the people who procure them.

Qn: How far have you moved with the formalities of setting up UICPA ?

I have been working on the draft constitution, which is being discussed by members and registration is on-going. UICPA will be temporarily housed at I-Network offices in Kamwokya.

Qn: How will UICPA prevent the interference of players and regulators of the sector considering that they will fund or sponsor some of the activities?

Ultimately the core objectives and values of UICPA will determine the extent of activities it engages in. Overall we hope that we will consider the integrity of our objectives and their strategic importance over short-term benefits.

We envisage a lot of interaction and support from statutory bodies, which we will welcome but overall our strategic goals and objectives shall guide us.

We cannot write into the constitution what we will and not do this and that because of the unforeseen eventualities but we will have a board of integrity that will help in the day to day matters when conflicts arise.

 

Qn: What should ICT users expect to see when UICPA is up and fully running?

 

Initially consumers should have modest expectations in terms of the number of cases we will handle. What we agreed is that in the beginning we will set up a complaints procedure.

 

For instance, before someone complains to UICPA, they should have exhausted all complaints procedures; short of going to court but that does not also stop them from going to court.

Secondly, we shall carry out sensitization on what we intend to do through the media and use other platforms to educate Ugandans on what we are about and what we do.

This will however be determined by resources available to UICPA. But ultimately, we will need very strong sensitization because I can tell you that out of the 6 million phone subscribers in Uganda, at least 80 percent are ignorant about their rights. Complaints management procedures and mediation will also be  

Qn: As you carry out your role, how will you interface with the providers and regulators when complaints come to your attention?

We see ourselves liaising with the service providers. If it is a regulated service, we will interface with UCC and for a product issue, with UNBS. There is a remote possibility that in some circumstances, with approval of the board, UICPA will carry out public interest litigation. But this will not be a priority area in the initial conceptual phases.

Qn: Do you think UCC, which is meant to essentially fulfill the role of protecting consumers, should participate in UICPA activities?

 

I see UCC more of partner than a participant. UCC has a statutory mandate to license service providers. But it is also mandated to give oversight to the ICT sector and even implement corrective measures in case of poor quality of service.

This is a mandate UICPA does not have. What is clear though, is that there is a confluence of interests, which can be exploited between the two entities depending on resources availability which could include funds or human resource. But the ultimate beneficiary in all this is the consumer.

Qn: What is your take on the possibility of UCC coming in to fund some of UICPA’s activities?

I see no problem with that but I don’t think it will be wise for UICPA to solicit funding from one entity or from a Government agency.

Qn: How do you hope to raise funds?

Although the funding issue is daunting, we hope members will raise some funds. Secondly, we hope statutory bodies will see reason to work with us and come aboard. But thirdly, we hope that other well wishers who will see the benefit of an ICT consumer Association will also weigh in.

Qn: In terms of executing your mandate, how will UICPA ensure that cases get solved quickly without the user having to wait for a long time?

I think initially UICPA will draw from the wealth of experience of people in the ICT sector to either mediate cases or disputes. The only other alternative would be to take legal action, which we could recommend when we feel our best efforts have been exhausted.

However, it has been suggested that where there is continued failure or refusal to listen to user complaints, a name and shame approach be used, which in severe cases could lead to a boycott of services or products.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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