A few days ago, a music fan attended a concert and while there, his mobile phone was stolen. In a few hours, those that took his mobile phone were able to access his bank account, sent themselves money in millions and immediately withdrew it.
On reporting the matter to police, this person was advised that even though the sim cards on which these thieves sent money were fully registered, there wasn’t much to be done considering that those that took the money have since switched off the feature (small button, Kabiriti) phones that they used and most probably threw away the sim cards, read ‘lines’ as they are popularly known in Uganda.
While reporting this matter to police, his bank and the telecom operator, the victim of this unfortunate scenario was made aware that cases similar to his continue to be registered across the country, with many of them remaining unresolved because those registered numbers cannot be tracked.
This sort of dilemma is telling of the issue around sim card registration. For some years now, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has been implementing mandatory sim card registration. Section 9 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010 (RICA) obliges all telecommunications service providers to ensure that before they enter into contract with any person for the provision of telecommunication services, such a person must be duly registered.
This obligation is further restated in regulation 7 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Instrument No. 42 of 2011, which emphasises that a telecommunications service provider must obtain identification details about any person seeking to enter into a contract for the provision of telecommunication services in Uganda.
To register, Ugandans are required to have a national identity card, foreigners use a passport with a valid visa while refugees need a refugee identification card or an attestation letter from the Office of the Prime Minister. But even with these legislations in place, mobile phone crime is rampant, abetted by registered sim cards.
According to Eng Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, the acting executive director at UCC, it is a bad coincidence that while Uganda is implementing continuous sim card registration, there is also an increase in mobile phone-related fraud.
“With the coming of the national IDs, we agreed that whoever doesn’t have a national ID can’t get a sim card registered. While this is the right thing to do, the public has misused it. You find one person registering sim cards for all his/her friends and family. Some are paid even as low as Shs 2,000 to register sim cards for others. At the end of the day, those cards are registered in one person’s names but are being used by different people,” Sewankambo said.
She added: “There is also an issue of opportunistic behaviour. The agents also misused the registration process as they registered multiple numbers secretly and sold them out to criminals. That is why nowadays telecoms insist that whoever is registering a line, a photo of that person holding that sim card should be taken. We have also since agreed that sim card registration can only be done at a few designated areas to reduce on this kind of fraud.”
Sewankambo made these remarks while speaking at the 2022 Digital and Financial Inclusion Summit that also featured the ninth edition of the Digital Impact Awards Africa at Kampala Serena hotel.
Vincent Tumwijukye, the chief executive officer of FutureLink Technologies, a Bank of Uganda-licensed digital marketplace for affordable financial services, noted that most of the mobile phone-related fraud also happens because of unhappy and disgruntled employees.
Nonetheless, the UCC team leader is upbeat that with continuous engagement and partnerships among stakeholders, the ecosystem will get safe and secure for all.
“To address these challenges, we are involved in continuous engagements with key stakeholders such as NITA Uganda, security agencies, operators and the general public to enhance safety of all mobile network services users.”
Other stakeholders are calling for stringent laws and adherence to international standards in order to curb mobile phone-related crime.
“It is important for Uganda to wake up to international standards. There are already protocols and standards that have been developed for technology. There are the payment card industry data security standards which, in our view, should be a standard adopted by all financial technology companies operating in Uganda. While they were developed for payment cards, they are really applicable to our environment and the issues we are facing,” Tumwijukye said.
On his part, Nelson Kituuka, the CEO of Card Pesa, a registered and regulated Tier 4 digital lender, noted: “We need to put in place strong legislation and stringent punishments to those involved in this fraud. For example, if we had a legislation that says, if you find money on your account that is not yours and you use it, you go to jail, then such bad behaviour would reduce. Importantly, the fintech players must be awake all the time, proactively detect fraud and stop it,” The Digital and Financial Inclusion summit brought together top executives and stakeholders that are spearheading the scaling, adoption and usage of digital and financial services across Africa.
The Digital Impact Awards Africa, on the other hand, recognized and rewarded different organizations taking lead in digital inclusion, financial inclusion and cyber security.
For the awards, MTN Uganda and MTN MoMo were the biggest winners with the two sister companies bagging the biggest accolade of the night; the digital brand of the year – diamond accolade. Centenary bank came second and took home the gold prize. Other notable winners were Standard Chartered bank, Stanbic National Schools Championship, Jumia Uganda, NSSF, Jude Colour Solutions and Pride Microfinance, among others.
While handing over the awards to the different winners, David Karubanga, the patron of HiPipo, and member of parliament for Kigorobya and the chairperson of the Committee of Physical Infrastructure in parliament, thanked all companies and individuals that are spearheading Uganda’s digital and financial inclusion journey.
“I am happy to see the progress that the country is making on matters digital and financial inclusion. The efforts of the government and the private sector are all contributing to this success. The Digital Impact Awards Africa continue to play a key awareness and appreciation role,” Hon Karubanga said.
the Digital and Financial Inclusion Summit and the Digital Impact Awards Africa were organized by HiPipo in partnership with Level One Project, Mojaloop, PortX (formerly ModusBox), and CrossLake Technologies and supported by the Gates Foundation.