In March this year, Uganda’s Attorney General Fred Ruhindi tabled a bill seeking to give the Minister for Information and Communication Technology the power to control communications in any way the government sees fit.
Notably, the Bill seeks to amend section 93(1) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 to remove the requirement for parliamentary approval of regulations made by the Minister under the Act.
The draft bill would remove the requirement for Parliament’s approval in the event that the Minister wishes to make regulations. Additionally, the regulations would not need to be presented before Parliament after they are made.
State Minister of Finance, David Bahati, says the amendments are grant the Minister powers to make regulations relating to among others: fees payable upon the grant or renewal of a license; the classification or categories of licenses; the use of any communications station, apparatus or license; and anti-competitive practices.
In addition, the Minister has powers to make regulations on the retention of records relating to programmes or broadcasts; the obligations of proprietors, producers or broadcaster in respect of public broadcasts; and the regulation of community broadcasting.
However, critics of the bill have stated that it will, in effect, take away the Parliament’s oversight role, leaving the ICT minister with virtually unchecked powers in his docket.
The amendments came soon after the Uganda General election on February 18th, when Ugandans were unable to access social media platforms and mobile money services as voting got underway.
The blockade lasted for two more days, during which Ugandans were forced to use cloaking mechanisms to bypass network restrictions.
The Government later explained that the social media platforms and mobile money services had been temporarily blocked over national security concerns during the election period.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga forwarded the Bill to the House Committee on ICT for scrutiny, and the committee is expected to meet the minister and other stakeholders to get their views before submitting its report to Parliament.