The nightmare of replacing lost SIM card

•Telecoms count losses as UCC restricts SIM card sales
•Tumwebaze promises to ask security to review some restrictions

Journalist Sadab Kitatta lost his phone to Kampala’s pickpockets last month and sought to replace his SIM cards.

With his National ID and police letter, he walked into the MTN service centre with hope that he would walk out with a SIM card. He was however told that UCC had turned off their system and the telecom company could no longer do SIM card swaps (replacements) nor sale new ones.

A week later, on March 27, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) announced stringent requirements that had to be met by those wishing to replace their SIM cards.

These included getting a verification letter from National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) confirming your National Identification Number (NIN).

After the announcement was made, this writer went to Kololo airstrip where NIRA is headquartered to work on the replacement of SIM cards.

While there, I discovered that the process is not only time consuming but also costly, and in the end, does not guarantee your getting connected once again.

THE FORMS

Within one week of my undercover reporting, I discovered that more than 300 Ugandans that had already applied for the replacement of their SIM cards, paying between Shs 5,000 and Shs 4,000 to replace their lost sim cards.

For each lost SIM card, you have to buy a separate form at Shs 500 each which translates into Shs 1,000 if you lost two SIM cards.

You are then directed to a room in a makeshift structure to photocopy your National ID at Shs 500, a figure which is five times the normal fare for a photocopy.

The next stop are the Diamond Trust Bank (DTB) and United Bank of Africa (UBA) that operate kiosks in the tents adjacent to the pavilion where NIRA is housed.

For each NIRA form, you are issued a bank slip each carrying a bank charge of Shs 2,200, which translates into Shs 4,400 if you have two forms.

In addition to these charges, some in the queue had paid “breakfast” or “lunch” to the police officers who issued them with police letters after reporting the loss of their mobile phones.

At a Police post near Acacia Mall in Kamwokya, a man said, a clothed policewoman who recorded his case quietly asked him to give them “some lunch” as she forwarded the forms to another officer at the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) to be stamped, the cop first inquired if the man had offered some lunch.

Given that he wants to be connected again, he forked out Shs 5,000 for the cops lunch.
At Kololo airstrip police, the officers there ask for Shs 1,000 per copy of the police form.

Upon completion of this process, you have to wait for five working days within which NIRA is expected to have concluded your verification.

In the queues are some who had returned for their verification letters but suspicion was growing, and some got agitated.

“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.
A NIRA staffer pleaded for patience because the understaffed ID authority was overwhelmed with the number of applicants.

“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,” the NIRA staff said.

What baffled many was the fact that when UCC’s Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi was issuing the new guidelines, he didnot inform Ugandans about the likely 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 all the way to Kampala.

But everything took a new twist after a whistle blower Raymond Twinamatsiko yesterday, 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.

Telecommunications companies have also  distanced themselves from the process, this after I posed the question to them.

 

We are currently unable to sell nor replace SIM-cards until bio-metric card readers are in place. We apologize for the inconvenience caused, an update will be shared through different media channels. Thank you. #StanAirtelUg

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

LOSSES

Faridi Bunkonge was running an Airtel shop at Kasana in Luweero district but the restrictions has been forced out of business by the ban on sale of SIM cards.

“It’s now a full month minus working. They promised us Biometric card readers but up to now even our managers don’t hv any current information on wen to commence business,” Bunkonge told IntelPost.

The ban on sale of SIM cards has also had a toll effect on the mobile money business given the high numbers of Ugandans that have lost their phones and cannot replace their lines.

“Without making SIM card replacements means that mobile money users will also which means losses for the telecom companies because many people use the mobile money service to save,” Bunkonge said.

ICT minister Frank Tumwebaze is response to a distress tweet by Kitatta said that they were going to sit with relevant security organs to review some of the restrictions.


The restrictions follow a directive by President Museveni following last month’s kidnap and murder of Susan Magara.