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600,000 unregistered SIM cards risk deactivation

600,000 unregistered SIM cards risk deactivation

Telecoms and UCC collaborate in a final push for SIM card regularization (Courtesy photo)

Telecoms and UCC collaborate in a final push for SIM card regularization

With the clock ticking and only six days remaining until the looming deadline for deactivating unregistered SIM cards, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and major telecom companies are making a last-ditch effort to urge cardholders to take action to avoid potential disconnection. This urgent appeal comes just one week before the November 12, 2023, cutoff date, set by the UCC for the regularization of all registered SIM cards.

In strict adherence to the regulations laid out in the Interception of Communications Act, SIM card regularization requires registered owners to physically visit their respective telecom providers with their original national identity cards for a comprehensive screening and verification process. As per the UCC’s data, Uganda boasts more than 30 million registered SIM cards, but alarmingly, approximately 2 percent of these remain non-regularized, totaling around 600,000 subscribers.

The regularization process is a result of Section 9 of the Regulations of the Interception of Communications Act, which mandates telecommunication service providers to collect in-depth customer information, including personal and business details, prior to offering their services. Additionally, the regulations stipulate that each active SIM card must be associated with a National Identification Card, with a maximum limit of 10 SIM cards from the same telecom company per cardholder.

Abudu Salaam Waiswa, the Head of Legal Affairs at UCC, emphasized that the sole purpose of this exercise is to ensure compliance with the law and to have every subscriber fully registered, in line with existing legal requirements. He also noted that affected subscribers who have not yet completed the process will be contacted by their respective telecom companies.

The regularization process, specifically for Ugandan nationals, requires a National Identification Card for barcode scanning and thumbprint verification, referred to as biometric matching. It’s important to note that these requirements have been introduced at a time when a significant portion of the population lacks National IDs. Nevertheless, Waiswa stressed that the law mandates only this document for the exercise and encouraged those without National IDs to contact the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) to obtain the necessary documentation.

Waiswa assured individuals without National IDs that a letter from NIRA confirming their details would be accepted to facilitate the regularization process. “We understand the plight of people who don’t have National IDs; however, the authority to issue them lies with NIRA. For this particular exercise, NIRA has worked out a mechanism for writing a letter that confirms one’s particulars to all concerned parties. With this letter, we will be able to serve you. So, for those without IDs, let them go to NIRA. Whoever has this letter, we shall be able to support them through this process,” he explained.

Those concerned about losing access to their mobile money need not worry, as the national mobile payment system number allows customers to access their funds even without their SIM cards. Waiswa clarified that customers can still access their money by proving their ownership to the service providers, particularly with their National ID.

“If someone cannot prove ownership, the funds will be held by the operator for nine months, after which they will be transferred to the central bank, where they will be safeguarded until claimed with proper ownership proof,” he added.

Representatives from Airtel Uganda and MTN Uganda underscored the comprehensive effort to regularize SIM cards, emphasizing the importance of strengthening national security, ensuring full compliance with the law, and protecting the interests of Ugandan citizens. Dennis Kakonge, the legal and regulatory director at Airtel Uganda, and Julius Mboizi, the senior manager for regulatory affairs at MTN Uganda, both reiterated the commitment of telecom companies to this critical initiative.

As the November 12 deadline approaches, Ugandan mobile phone users are urged to take swift action to avoid SIM card deactivation and safeguard their mobile services. Compliance with the law, national security, and the protection of subscribers’ interests remain at the forefront of this extensive effort.

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