Tanzania: Counting Losses - Blocking Unregistered SIM Cards...

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(file photo).

Dar es Salaam — The government - as well as telecommunication companies, commercial banks, utility bodies, mobile money agencies and individuals - will be counting losses as about 20.4 million mobile telephony subscribers failed to biometrically register their subscriber identification modules (Sim cards) by the January 20 deadline this year as required.

According to the latest figures of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), some 48.8 million Sim cards are in use throughout the country by mobile telephony subscribers.

However, only about 28.4 million Sim cards had been registered under the biometric system by January 19, 2020 - thereby sparing the holders from having their mobile telephony products and services being blocked by TCRA.

The biometrically-unregistered Sim cards - numbering about 20.4 million in all - face the threat of being blocked, the acting TCRA Communications Manager, Mr Semu Mwakanjala, said yesterday.

The Sim cards which are threatened with blockage are in four specific categories.

According to Mr Mwakanjala, the first category is for Sim cards which were registered using National Identification Numbers (NIN) issued by the National Identification Authority (Nida), but whose holders were not registered using the biometric system. A total of 318,950 Sim cards are in this group.

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The second category involves 656,091 subscribers who have been registered, but two or more of the registration details bear similar names.

This suggests that some subscribers used their IDs to register Sim cards for their relatives, children, friends, etc.

The third category is for about 3.26 million Sim cards whose subscribers' names are not clear-cut and are, therefore, confusing.

"These, we suspect, include women who changed their names after getting married - and, as such, are using different names from those that appear on their birth certificates," Mr Mwakanjala said.

The fourth category involves a total of over 16 million Sim cards whose owners had not applied for, or obtained, biometric registration.

Although the biometric Sim card registration exercise is a continuous one, blocking 20.4 million Sim cards - even on a temporary basis - will see to the telecommunication firms involved, as well as the government, commercial banks, utility bodies/agencies, mobile money agencies and individuals suffering untold financial losses.

Indeed, the deputy minister for Works, Transport and Communications, Mr Atashasta Nditiye, admitted yesterday that the government will be one those who will be hit hard by blocking so many Sim cards.

"It is true that the government will be hit by the blocking. But, the biometric registration exercise is an ongoing one," he told The Citizen yesterday.

Vodacom Tanzania's public relations manager, Mr Alex Bitekeye, said the company has stopped providing all financial-related products and services through its mobile money platform 'M-Pesa.'

Until September 2019, Vodacom Tanzania had some 15 million voice telephony subscribers, about ten million of whom were registered on its M-Pesa platform.

His counterpart at Airtel Tanzania, Mr Jackson Mbando, said the loss that would occur if and when millions of Sim card subscribers would be blocked from mobile telephony products and services would be enormous.

"The loss would be for all of us, including the telecommunication firms, the government, and our clients alike," he said - adding that it was too early to calculate the actual loss.

With mobile telephony having taken a key role in the lives of Tanzanians, it is an open secret that blocking some Sim cards would mean blocking millions of Tanzanians from communicating and conducting financial transactions, among other drawbacks, he lamented.

The Halotel Tanzania head of Communications, Mr Mhina Semwenda, said it was somewhat encouraging that the registration exercise is an ongoing one.

Reported by Kelvin Matandiko and Ephraim Bahemu

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