23 August 2017

Uganda: Govt Finds 4 Million 'Ghost' Subscribers in Nira System

Photo: Alex Esagala/Daily Monitor
People wait to register their SIM cards at an MTN service centre in Kampala recently.

As the clock ticks fast toward another Sim card deregistration deadline, major telecom companies cannot account for at least four million subscribers in their system, a government official has said.

Statistics from the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), which were presented before a joint meeting of the parliamentary committees on ICT, Defence and Equal Opportunities, show that the four million queried subscribers are spread between five major telecom players; MTN, Airtel, Africell, Vodafone and UTL.

Vincent Bagiire, the permanent secretary, ministry of ICT and National Guidance, revealed yesterday that out of the 31.4 million subscriber numbers submitted to NIRA for verification, four million Sim cards cannot be linked to particular individuals or companies.

While MTN submitted 16.9 million subscribers, 2.5 million Sim cards cannot be linked to any individuals out of the 15.9 million verified.

For Airtel, 941,000 cannot be tied to any individual out of the 11.2 million numbers submitted while Africell has 542, 111 unaccounted for Sim cards out of the three million numbers submitted to NIRA.

Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL) submitted 236,891 numbers for verification but 22,434 are unaccounted for while Vodafone has 1,435 subscribers unaccounted for.

Bagiire explained that the "ghost" numbers could have been brought about by some subscribers submitting wrong numbers into the system.

He, however, revealed that the biggest suspicion falls on some agents who may be Sim-boxing, a term, which refers to fraudsters effectively bypassing the interconnect toll charging points to exploit the difference between the high interconnection rates and the low retail price for on-network calls.

Maxwell Akora (Maruzi MP) wondered whether the numbers can be identified by the local service providers since they were submitted through the telecom companies.

Bagiire, however, said the ministry and NIRA are still handling the matter. He said the matter will be investigated to ascertain whether there is connivance between agents and telecom operators.

On Monday, the committee chaired by Annet Nyakecho (Tororo North) met with different telecom companies to establish the status of Sim card registration ahead of the August 31 deadline.

The deadline for Sim card registration was extended from May 19 to allow those who had not acquired national identity cards to do so and receive a National Identification Number (NIN), which is a prerequisite to register a Sim card.

Some companies have asked for an extension of the deadline on grounds that the verification process has been hampered by lack of an application programming interface (API) that can update the subscriber information in real time.

They said they require access to NIRA data so that photographs of subscribers, their names and National Identity Numbers (NINs) are verified instantly.

However, Bagiire said it is critical to adhere to the deadline set by government.

Dr Tumubweinee Twinemanzi, the director of Industry Affairs and Content at the Uganda Communications Commission, said the Sim card registration process has achieved a 97.15 per cent success. He said extending the deadline will render the exercise useless and people will not take it seriously.

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