Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Airtel, Africell and MTN have temporarily stopped the sale of new SIM cards until they get direct access to the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) database.
In statements Thursday, Airtel Uganda, Africell and MTN Uganda all said they were responding to new guidelines issued by the he Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) with regards to selling of new SIM cards.
Ugandan telecommunications companies have been advised by UCC to immediately cease the sale of SIM cards through hawkers, street vendors, street agents and any other establishments that are not licensed by Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) or other municipal and town authorities.
“As per this directive, MTN Uganda shall need to acquire and install card readers at its respective service centres to validate national identification information before the activation of a new SIM card. This information will be instantly verified electronically against the national data base maintained by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).”
“MTN does not currently have direct access to the NIRA database, therefore the sale of new SIM cards will be temporarily stopped. We are working with UCC and NIRA to implement the necessary technical requirements to enable this as soon as possible. MTN regrets any inconvenience caused. Management,” the statement said.
Airtel also sent out a similar statement. “Following the Directives issued by UCC in respect to the Sale, Registration and Replacement of SIM Cards, we notify our esteemed Customers, Distributors, Staff, Stakeholders and the general public, that Airtel Uganda has temporarily stopped the Sale of Airtel SIM Cards until further notice. This notice takes immediate effect.”
Last week, Uganda Communications Commission was directed by government to investigate the existence of active sim-cards that are not properly registered and are being used by criminals.
“All telecom operators are on notice, if they don’t switch off illegally acquired sim-cards they will be penalized and or have their licenses revoked. Cabinet has taken this position and we will enforce it without exception,” Minister of ICT and National Guidance Frank Tumwebaze said last week.
At a press briefing earlier, Tumwebaze revealed that cabinet was concerned about reports of illegal sim-cards still active in the market and being used by criminals to hide their identity.
Tumwebaze said he had directed UCC to commence investigations into how some alleged Airtel numbers were got with wrong or forged identities by suspected criminals.
“Cabinet directed the Minister of ICT and National Guidance to investigate Telecommunication Companies that registered Simcards with wrong Information with a view of taking strong punitive measures against them if found uncompliant with government’s standing policy of having all simcards registered before issuance with the use of a National Identity card for Nationals,” he said.
After a lot of hurdles, UCC late last year concluded sim-card registration that minister Tumwebaze said was 90% successful. One had to have a national identity card in order to acquire a SIM card.
The country’s total registered mobile subscribers stand at 23.5 million across the eight telecom firms.
Managing security was the major objective of the exercise but going by recent crime incidents where mobile phones have been used that cannot be traced, there is growing concern the registration exercise was not full-proof.
The most recent incident involving the use of untraceable mobile phones ended with the death of a Kampala-based cashier Suzan Magara whose kidnappers tried to reach the family seeking a ransom.
Uganda embarked on sim-card registration nearly five years ago but the exercise was delayed until the government was able to introduce national identity cards in 2014 for clear identification of customers.
According to government officials, the enactment of the Registration of Persons Act 2015 makes the national ID a mandatory document to use for any form of registration services, SIM card registration inclusive.
Government also directed telecoms to restrict SIM card sales in designated places – service centres and kiosks
By close of deadline on August 31, 2017, UCC and the office of the Prime Minister reported that 98% of the SIM cards had been successfully registered and were compliant. Mutabazi said then that the 2% that was not registered by end of August was insignificant going by industry operations.