Phone users in Uganda stuck after UCC ban

Phone users in Uganda stuck after UCC ban

Several Ugandans seeking to replace sim cards are still in a state of confusion after discovering that verifying their National Identification Numbers (NIN) with National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) won’t lead to sim card replacement.

During a one-week undercover reporting, this writer came across forms that were filled and had over 300 Ugandans who had already paid between 4,000 and Shs 5,000 shillings to replace their lost sim cards.

The payments followed a press release by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) who on March 27, announced that sim cards may be replaced if certain requirements, including confirmation of NIN by NIRA, have been met.

Consequently, those who had lost their lines flooded NIRA offices in Kololo, Kampala, to verify their national IDs that were issued by the same body about three years back.

On inquiry, people found in Kololo said that each person was made to buy a copy of a form where the complaint would be written at 500 shillings. Those who had lost two lines would pay 1,000 shillings.

After filling the forms, NIRA employees told them to pay more Shillings 1,000 for each form in the only available Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) branch.

We later discovered that whether one was to replace a single sim card or two, DTB would still charge Shillings 2,200 for each form as bank charges.

As the process was still moving on, some people seeking to replace their lines became suspicious, while others were bitter.

“How come we are coming here everyday and not getting the confirmation letters? I’m personally from Tororo and I registered last week but I have been coming here and not getting my letter. Which type of a country is this?,” wondered Rodger Okello.

Explaining the delay, one of the NIRA officials identified as Winnie said they are understaffed.

“We are very few and yet people seeking our services here are many. We have to work on those looking for passports, those looking for birth and death certificates and you people of sim cards,” she said.

What baffled many was the fact that when UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi was issuing the new guidelines, he didn’t inform Ugandans about the likely sur charges.

Also, it should be remembered that, currently, NIRA has only one office in the country. This means that all those who have issues with their sim cards, country wide, have to travel to Kampala.

But everything took a new twist after a whistleblower, Raymond Twinamatsiko, at NIRA offices, told hundreds of those seeking to swap their lines that UCC has issued another directive banning the process until a certain machine is imported.

“Actually I called MTN customer care before coming here and they told me UCC stopped sim swapping. I didn’t believe the woman until I went to Shoprite in Lugogo [at one of the MTN service centres] and they told me the same thing. So all we are doing here is wastage of time and money,” said Twinamatsiko, one of those who wanted to replace a sim card.

Also telecom companies have already distanced themselves from the process.

“We are currently unable to sell nor replace SIM-cards until bio-metric card readers are in place,” Airtel Uganda tweeted about the issue on Wednesday, April 4.

It’s sister company MTN Uganda added that they were neither aware of the day nor the time when the bio-metric card readers would be brought into the country.

According to NIRA, their mandate only stops at providing the information that is needed by an individual.

We tried getting a comment from UCC but they had not yet replied by the time of compiling this story.

Earlier last month, President Museveni, following the kidnap and murder of Susan Magara – a daughter to a city businessman – banned sim card swapping and selling.

He argued that criminals were using the loopholes in the country’s communication system to commit crimes.

But even after this week’s discovery, NIRA has gone ahead to issue confirmation letters that are not going to rescind the UCC ban.