By Moses Kaketo
On 28th March 2017, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a deadline to all telecom operators to switch off all unregistered and partially registered Sim-cards.
Under the new guidelines, the UCC announced that registered subscribers, who did not use either National Identity cards or Passports, will be subjected for re-verification. Majority Ugandans used their workplace identity cards or village identity cards since National Identity Cards were not yet out.
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The directive comes weeks after the murder of Police Spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi. It is suspected the killers could have used unregistered Sim-cards during their operation, making it complex to track them.
Police spokesperson AIGP Asan Kasingye recently revealed that unregistered Sim cards frustrate their efforts in pursuing criminals. “Why do we still have unregistered numbers? The criminals drop the telephone lines after using them for criminal activities,” Kasingye said.
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A closer look into the Sim-card registration exercise which started in 2013 reveals the project was full of anomalies and data mix-up. In the circumstance, it is possible someone (perhaps a criminal) is using a Sim-card with your details. Industry experts say possibly there are thousands, if not millions of subscribers with such cases.
It is a public secret, UCC failed to provide a clear implementation plan and oversight for the exercise. Four years after the registration ended, UCC is said to be aware of the massive anomalies that marred the exercise, but one reason or the other they chose to keep a blind eye.
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The UCC was not in a hurry to act till the police came in. otherwise, such would lead to significant loss of money to the UCC and the economy. Well, this came at a cost of lives, including murder of Andrew Felix Kaweesi.
Reports indicate there are so many Sim cards that were not fully registered which make the verification not only difficult, tiresome but also expensive. It is understood millions of customers submitted their details, but for unknown reasons, they were never processed. To them, they are registered, in reality, they are not registered.
Some customers made errors on their forms, meaning they were never fully registered. Some networks went ahead to complete such forms through phone calls with little success, sometimes, they were not calling the right customers, given the data mix-up etc.
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Analysts say the blame goes to UCC, which did not adequately supervise the exercise.
It is understood some telecoms recruited senior four and senior six graduates to handle the exercise without providing them with adequate training. Some people said they were able to register their Sim-cards without providing genuine information.
Taken together, the integrity of the database is therefore doubtful and cannot be depended on.
This presents a huge challenge and cost to the networks, UCC and government. Ideally, it calls for a repeat of the exercise or correction of the data that was not properly captured. How do you verify this? For example, a case of wrong photo on a right form. Either way, it is a laborious exercise and calls for going through all the forms again to input the right data. Given the large number of customers, this would be a tall order.
How agents earned big, mismanaged the exercise
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For each customer that agents registered, they earned commission that ranged from network to network. Some net¬works were paying Ugx 1,000 to Ugx 2,000 for each complete form.
The agents went for numbers. Typical of some Ugan¬dans, agents went and got photos from anywhere, sometimes duplicating genuine information from already registered forms to register new Sim-cards. This is how Ugandans were able to buy ready registered Sim-cards off the streets. It is possible someone is using a Sim-card bearing your data. How is UCC or telecom going to verify this data?
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That’s why a network may have fully registered Sim cards-,but with mixed up information that was intended by agents to get money from telecoms. The telecoms are aware of this. For example, when you call customer service, they will first ask if you’re so-and-so. An indication that they are aware of the data mix-up.
Why UCC went silent, in a dilemma
An insider told us that the UCC is fully aware of the irregularities in Sim card registration, but decided to go silent because they are aware that networks incurred huge costs on the exercise.
A simple calculation tells the story. If a network has about seven million customers and gave the agents Ugx 1,000 per completed registration form, this translates to more than seven billion. This money paid from the telecom’s coffers. How do you spend such money and then repeat the exercise? Equally verification is not an easy process.
This scenario has caught UCC in a dilemma. On one hand, they want to get the correct information for security reasons, but they also acknowledge that it is such a huge cost to the networks.
They are aware that they didn’t put up proper guidelines and procedures. One wonders whether UCC can successfully impose penalties if they were part of the problem and are bound to lose huge revenue if they enforced the switch-off of unregistered clients.