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MTN Uganda denies cheating taxes as govt procures machines to net culprits

MTN Uganda’s spokesperson Justina Ntabgoba says the government had not been given any details of the alleged underreporting of transactions. (FILE PHOTO)

KAMPALA – Embattled telecommunications giants MTN Uganda has denied government accusations it has been understating its revenues, insisting that it was fully meeting all its tax obligations.

“MTN revenues are independently audited and we remain firmly of the view that all revenues have been correctly accounted for and we are compliant on all tax matters,” MTN Uganda told Reuters on Thursday.

“Where queries are raised during tax assessments … MTN works with the relevant authorities to resolve the queries according to the law.”

President Yoweri Museveni and several government officials have always complained that the company in some instances has not been making full declarations of transactions which constitute undermining the economy.

MTN Uganda earned $373.99 million in revenues in 2017, up 10 percent from the previous period.

Government questions MTN’s sales figures

MTN Uganda is facing more challenges in Uganda after the government accused it of under-declaring its sales and causing public revenue losses.

Uganda recently deported MTN Uganda’s Chief Executive Wim Vanhelleputte, the fourth MTN official to be expelled in less than a month on accusations of compromising national security.

Mr. Vanhellputte pictured on Thursday night at Entebbe International Airport awaiting a plane to Brussels after he was shown the door. (COURTESY PHOTO)

The company is a unit of South African telecoms giant MTN Group, which has also had problems in Nigeria where the central bank last year accused it of repatriating $8 billion without the correct paperwork. The row was later resolved after the company paid a token settlement. The company also MTN faces parliamentary probe in Rwanda over land grabbing

MTN Uganda has over 10 million subscribers and competes chiefly with the local unit of India’s Bharti Airtel.

Relations between the government and the company have been tested over the past year by a series of setbacks including a security raid on the company’s data centre, delayed renewal of its operating license and the expulsions of its executives.

The company has also been under political pressure to list its shares on the local bourse to facilitate domestic ownership of the company and ensure more of the money it earns stays in the country.

Undermining country’s security, economy

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said scrutiny of MTN came after the government acquired the capacity to monitor telecom firms’ transactions for tax compliance and reporting purposes.

“It is as a result of that technical capacity that MTN and its officials have run afoul,” he said.

“They have been found that in some instances they have not been making full declarations of transactions which constitute undermining Uganda’s economy.”

Mr. Museveni has repeatedly accused telecom firms in the country of cheating taxes by underreporting the volume of their calls and data sales, but has not named any companies.

MTN Group CEO Rob Shuter with the Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (PPU PHOTO)

“Telephone companies have been under-declaring calls until recently when we acquired machines to see the telephone calls ourselves. Big shame to the culprits,” Museveni said without mentioning the exact company.

Opondo also accused the expelled MTN officials of compromising Uganda’s national security by “providing backend access to unauthorised persons for whatever reasons.

That’s what these officials of MTN did, opening backend for Uganda’s data system to other unauthorised persons.”

He said the reasons were likely espionage or economic sabotage and that the motivation was still under investigation.

This website reported on Wednesday that Mr. Vanhelleputte position appeared untenable when he was on Tuesday summoned by the military intelligence to answer charges that senior MTN Uganda staff, deported from the country last month were allowed access into the telecom’s system to carry on work remotely, apparently after attending an MTN Global leaders conference as part of the Ugandan staff delegation in Dubai a week ago.

A senior intelligence official has intimated to this web site that Mr. Vanhelleputte was summoned after intelligence got to know of the development, raising questions on why the deported officials should be allowed into a system on a territory where they are persona non grata.

MTN responds

MTN Uganda’s spokesperson Justina Ntabgoba said the government had not been given any details of the alleged underreporting of transactions.

“We have not gotten any official communication, so we don’t have a response. Once we receive an official communication then we can respond,” she said.

MTN Uganda Senior Manager Corporate Affairs, Ms Justina Ntabgoba-Kayemba declined to comment on the matter (FILE PHOTO)

Ntabgoba declined to comment on the accusations, saying only that the government had not informed the company of the reasons for the executives’ deportations.

MTN has been operating in Uganda since 1998 when it secured a 20-year operating license that expired last October.

In 2017 it began a process to obtain a 10-year extension but that has dragged on amid disagreements over the size of the fees to be paid for the extension and other issues.

The Uganda business contributes about 4 percent of MTN Group’s earnings before interest, depreciation, and amortisation.

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