Agents of telecommunications companies in Luweero town are on the spot for charging phone users to validate their sim cards.
Last week, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered telecommunication firms to validate all sim cards within a period of one week. UCC had set April 20 as the deadline for sim card validation and registration using the national identification numbers (NINs).
Yesterday, government extended the exercise has been extended for a month. Although both UCC and telecom companies are sending text messages asking sim card holders to dial *197# to validate their sim cards using their NINs, some people in Luweero are unable to do so, which has forced them to turn to telecom agents.
On Wednesday, hundreds of phone users rushed to telecom agents to validate or register their sim cards so as not to be disconnected. However, some of the agents charged the phone users between Shs 2000-5000 to validate or register their sim cards despite the fact that the exercise is entirely free of charge.
Swamadu Saffi, a resident of Bwaziba LC 1 village in Luweero sub-county, says he paid Shs 4,000 to facilitate the registration of his Airtel and MTN sim cards. According to Saffi, he paid the money for fear of being disconnected when the UCC deadline expires.
"I first went to the MTN service centre, they told me the first process is to present my national ID, then photocopy the national ID and then they asked me to pay Shs 2,000. No receipt was issued to me. They just gave me a paper that indicated that my sim card has been validated.
Afterwards, I went to Airtel, and just like at MTN, they asked me to pay Shs 2,000. That means for us who come from far, we have to spend about Shs 10,000 to have our sim cards validated. I live in Bwaziba and I used Shs 4,000 in transport to come and I will spend another Shs 4,000 to go back", he said.
Abdul Tagabirwa, a resident of Misanje village in Kikyusa sub-county says he paid Shs 7,000 to agents to register his two lines and photocopy his National Identity card. He asks UCC to take action against telecom companies for cheating them.
"The process should be free because the economy is so bad. We don't have money", Tagabirwa complained, ignorant to the fact that the registration is free of charge.
Denis Mugisha, a sales agent at MTN Uganda, Luweero Town Service Point explains that sim card registration or validation is for free of charge. He says the agents get a commission of Shs 1,200 for each registered sim card.
"The registration is free because the company pays us commission. The company pays us a monthly commission. Every line we register we get paid Shs 800, now they pay us Shs 1,200 because of this validation period. They [agents] are not supposed to charge any client. The ones who charge clients, do so illegally. We have no idea about it. Yesterday, we got a client who came to complain that he was charged for registration. We are still investigating that case", Mugisha said.
A sales agent at Luweero Airtel service point who talked on condition of anonymity that they get a commission of Shs 1,000 for each registered sim card at the end of each month, but says this is their chance to double their earnings.
At least 200 clients had been registered by midday yesterday at both the Airtel and MTN service points in Luweero town.
Isaac Kalembe, the spokesperson UCC has asked the affected people to report to police all agents asking them for money to validate their sim cards. According to Kalembe, those soliciting for money to validate sim cards are doing it illegally, saying the exercise is free of charge.
There are long queues at Luweero district Electoral Commission offices, which also houses the offices of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) as hundreds pick their national identity cards validate their sim cards to avoid disconnection.
At least 90 people had picked their National IDs by midday on Wednesday when our reporters visited the offices. Mohammed Mpiima, the Luweero district information technology officer, says there are more than 16,000 national identity cards at the office. He says they are doing everything possible to distribute the national identity cards.
"The number which is coming, yesterday we managed to serve over 200 people in a day, so today I think we shall do the same. You see, we have different categories of people, we have those who are coming for registration, those have so many reasons.
They say I was sick, I was out of the country. Of course you cannot determine the truth, but the truth of the matter is they are not registered and we have those who are coming to pick their cards. Ugandans should save this thing of last minute and wait for the last hour. It is not good and I think this should be a lesson to all of us that when there's a government idea or something we should always cooperate in time such that we don't experience such situations", Mpiima said.