By Alfred Wandera
The telecommunications companies Tuesday found themselves between a rock and a hard place after they failed to convince the communications consumers that they had managed to put out of service unregistered simcards.
The matter was touched off by the minister of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Eng. John Nasasira, who tasked the managers of the mobile network operators to address the concerns of the consumers about the growing usage of unregistered Simcards.
“Why would a telecommunication company allow a person at any time to hold and use unregistered Simcard? If you have the technology that can block unregistered Simcards from being used, how come I am receiving so many complaints that such cards are in use? How do people using such cards get them?” an infuriated Nasasira charged.
Nasasira was addressing the second annual communications consumer parliament as the chief guest at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala that was also part of the activities to celebrate the annual World Consumer Rights Day, which falls on March 15 every year.
Tinkasimile asking questions to the communication service providers during the 2nd communication consumer parliament (CCP2) at Imperial Royale hotel, Kampala on March 31, 2015. Photo/Lattif Riche
The parliament was convened under the theme “Empowering Consumers through Knowledge” and it aimed at providing consumers with an opportunity to express their concerns in relation to the theme and to enable service providers to address consumer issues as required of them.
To add salt in an already sour wound, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi, never minced his words, as he slapped the accusation in the faces of the telecom managers present that they were reaping exorbitant profits in allowing unregistered Simcards remain in service.
“We have always asked the telecom companies to furnish us with details of Simcard users who run fake lotteries duping the public to have won big prizes but no single company has ever come out with details on the masterminders of such rackets,” said a dejected Mutabazi.
He added: “These companies are selling unregistered cards because of business. They are reaping money. These telecom companies are playing with our lives. There is high crime rate in the country because criminals are using unregistered cards to carry out heinous activities. We cannot keep quiet when things are running out of hand.”
Buyaga West MP, Barnabas Tinkasimire, charged at the telecom companies, accusing them of enjoying a free business environment to exploit Ugandans because of the relations they hold with high ranking Government officials.
“When you (telecoms) come to Uganda, make your money, but please, make clean money. We cannot allow you to go on exploiting our people. That is totally unacceptable,” charged Tinkasimire.
Unregistered sims to be blocked
Consequently, Mutabazi ordered the telecom companies to block all the unregistered Simcards with immediate effect, vowing to close and fine any of them whose clients will be found operating with unregistered Simcards.
Efforts by Airtel’s Legal and Regulatory Director, Dennis Kakonge and Smart’s Commercial Director, Omer Mahgoub, to explain the status of unregistered Simcards did not convince the communications consumers who labeled them as liars.
“When we entered the market one year ago, we found when the regulation of unregistered Simcards was not in force. So we had to embark on streamlining out database to sort out the registered and unregistered customers by calling them to collate their data. That is what we are still doing and we hope to streamline the operations soon,” said Mahgoub.
Kakonge said Airtel has faced challenges in dealing with unregistered Simcards because of the complexities of e-registration and paper registration processes.
However, Kakonge urged the ICT ministry to work with the Internal ministry to enable the telecom companies access the national identification data system so as to be able to corroborate the information provided by customers during Simcard registration.
Sam Kuloba Watasa, the executive director of Uganda Consumers’ Protection Association, had earlier presented a petition to UCC and ICT ministry decrying a number of irregularities by the telephony operators.
Among the complaints presented by Watasa are the frequent network failures, unsolicited ringtones and eventual cash deductions, free airtime offers, unending promotions without clearly stating the terms and conditions and deductions made on money transfer platforms.
The consumers also demanded for reasonable compensation of unsolicited ringtones that they do not subscribe for and the setting up of a system of reimbursing their money.
Nasasira said the ministry is in the process of drafting a consumer protection bill that will ensure that consumer rights are safeguarded.