Telecom companies in Uganda face legal battle on unclaimed Mobile Money balances

Telecom companies in Uganda face legal battle on unclaimed Mobile Money balances
Mobile money agents in Kampala

Human Rights Defenders Uganda has started a legal battle to push telecom companies to declare all airtime and mobile money balances on sim cards owned by deceased persons.

Gideon Tugume, the Executive Director of Human Rights Defenders – Uganda dragged the telecoms to court demanding that they submit all unclaimed Mobile Money and Airtime balances to the state. He says the money should be sent to the consolidated fund instead of reverting to the service provider.

Under the current procedure, phone lines that remain inactive within 90 days are removed from the network. However, the balance on their mobile money account is transferred to an internal dormant suspense account after a period of 180 days.

Because Mobile Money transactions are governed by the Bank of Uganda through a financial institution, they are covered by the same rules that apply on dormant suspense accounts within the banks. According to the Financial Institutions Act of the banks, 2004, all unclaimed balances in financial institutions are transferred to the Central Bank after a period of five years.

But in the case filed before Mengo Chief Magistrates Court, Tugume contends that since the introduction of Mobile Money services in 2009, many subscribers have passed on either through natural death, accidents or otherwise, leaving balances on the sim cards. He adds that none of the telecom companies has published information about the unclaimed balances.

Tugume says that the actions of the companies are illegal.

Tugume now wants the court to order the companies to publish a list of all unclaimed balances from inactive sim cards and order them to deposit it on the consolidated fund. He also wants a declaration that a registered Simcard is a property of the owner.

The Mengo Chief Magistrates Court has since summoned the Companies to file in their defence within 14 days before the matter is fixed for the hearing.