Ugandans should not suffer because UCC failed to get right the SIM card registration the first time
SIM CARD | UCC
By Ivan N Baliboola
The Uganda Commission's Commission (UCC)'s rushed SIM card sale ban was ill informed and suspicious.
It is a season when several subscribers are still recovering from the 2017 mandatory switch off of unverified SIM cards. UCC recently announced a temporary ban on the sale of simcards without a timeline.
UCC expects Ugandan businesses to stop because of their oversight. This uncertainty will slowly kill Uganda's telecom industry. Ugandan telecoms were stopped from selling new SIM cards until the process of establishing connectivity with National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) is complete. A simcard is the point of contact with any telecom service; its accessibility must not be hindered.
Ugandan SIM cards will soon lose demand. Ugandans will soon turn to SIM cards of other East African countries, and just roam.UCC and partner agencies insist on national identification data for citizen SIM cards knowing its inefficiencies. Not everyone has a national card nor is replacement of the national identification card possible in even a month.
This is the wrong time to suspend SIM card sales. Ugandan telecoms are struggling to get back old subscribers. In a 2017 UCC report, mobile phone subscribers in Uganda dropped by about 56,946 in the first quarter. The drop can be attributed to the controversial SIM card registration. This SIM card sale ban will impact mobile phone penetration because it has removed the entire telecom distribution network. You cannot sell what you cannot avail everywhere. Street vendors were enabling SIM card uptake. Telecom centres are not easily accessible. Telecoms are struggling to forget voice business and embrace a data.
Instead of an abrupt blanket SIM card sale ban, why didn't UCC contract a third provider to manage the database of National IDs for SIM card registration since card readers directed by the president may never be available on time? We do not even have a standard SIM card registration number format.
UCC had maintained a blanket SIM card sale ban, but changed their stand on March 27, 2018. They allowed telecoms to do SIIM card replacements /swaps following unrealistic with tough rules. For example, a letter from NIRA Uganda will now be required in order to prove the authenticity of your national identity card, if you are going to have your SIM card replaced. The documents required to replace cards are not easy to get because of bureaucratic processes. You may think UCC is punishing SIM card owners for losing them. It may be easier to kneel down to beg a "kifeesi" to throw your SIM card and take the phone than go through the UCC SIM card replacement process.
Why does UCC place the burden on customers all the time? Ugandans should not suffer because UCC failed to get right the SIM card registration the first time. There must be resignations at UCC in public interest for failing to do the right thing.
UCC's public relations team has not managed the crisis well in the court of public opinion. So rather than be reactive, UCC needs to start being proactive. This SIM card sale ban will see an increase in crimes. Criminals will start to target registered SIM cards. Surely, a black market will exist to duplicate current SIM cards.
Ugandans feel disrespected by UCC'S actions every time there is an issue of SIM card registration. This is now turning away Ugandans from telecoms yet one of UCC's consumer affairs activities is promoting ICT usage. The ban goes against UCC's core value of being committed to being a world class regulator by providing a conducive environment for all customers and stakeholders.
If UCC and previous mandatory SIM card registration has failed to address fraud related to SIM card cloning, will the card sale ban stop crimes as suggested? UCC must start to be seen to do its mandate of regulation not ban everything.
UCC must ensure universal access to information by reversing the SIM card ban. According to the UCC Access and Usage Survey 2014, radio is the most widely owned and used form of communication, followed by mobile phones. Africell at one time rolled out a free SIM card campaign using their street vendors that have since been banned. The point was universal access to communication.
The writer is a public relations officer and organisational diagnosis specialist