The UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi has met with the ICT Parliamentary Committee to discuss the phasing out of airtime scratch cards.
The meeting was a follow up on the Cabinet agreement to streamline the registration of SIM Card users to improve the security in the county.
The Inter-Ministerial committee that was tasked to find solutions to phone-based security threats pointed out the need to streamline airtime distribution to include registration and accountability of all persons handling SIM Cards and airtime transactions, and E-Top up would provide this traceability.
Measures implemented required all telecom operators to install Biometric card readers such that all SIM Card Registrations, SIM Replacements/Upgrades & SIM Swaps are done only upon Electronic verification of the biometric details of the SIM card applicant.
The Commission and security agencies consulted sector players on other measures to eliminate SIM Card related crimes and improve traceability of mobile phone users and vendors. The recommendation to Government was that vending of air time cards was directly linked to the selling of illegally registered SIM cards and would facilitate airtime recharge and top-ups manually without any digital tracing.
In March 2018, the public was informed about the planned ban on airtime scratch cards, and the process necessary to effect the ban was set for July 31, 2018. Alternative options for consumers to buy airtime are: Easy Load; Mobile Money, Me2U, Payway among others. Operators worked out mechanism to redeem scratch cards that were still in the hands of customers and no customer would lose money, instead they would be refunded for unutilised airtime cards.
The use of electronic recharge systems wasrecommended as a viable and secure option, with a number of advantages:
Basing on the practice from other countries in the region on the use of E-Top Up by major providers in other markets they operate, testimonies indicate that Uganda is on the right track for a number of reasons;
It enhances security by allowing traceability of all users;
Facilitates the move to the digital format of selling airtime using the phone as the medium of transaction;
Improves revenue assurance. URA can determine amounts of airtime sold ruling out tax under declarations;
Reduces E-waste caused by scratch cards thrown into the environment;
Protects the public against purchase of fake air time scratch cards;
Lowers the cost of provision of communication services, such as manufacture, importation, warehousing and distribution which increases the overall cost of doing business; and
The paper scratch cards are manufactured outside Uganda adding onto our importation bill thereby facilitating capital flight.
ICT Parliamentary Committee members supported the e-airtime loading as it was solving a problem of fraud which a number of them has experienced in their constituencies. However, they cautioned on the need for increased countrywide sensitization of the public.
Other Honourable members noted that the comparative advantages of the electronic recharge system outweigh the need for scratch cards as it would help promote security.
On the concern about the collection of OTT tax effectively and wholesomely, Hon Frank Tumwebaze, Minister for ICT and National Guidance clarified that OTT was a taxation issue under the docket of the Finance Ministry and not the mandate of UCC. He further asked Parliament to dialogue with the security agencies on the issue of fake phones.
Mr. Mutabazi noted that the sector was undergoing a technology evolution and that in this digital era the integrity and accountability expected of communication systems was unprecedented, hence the new measures.