Telecom companies in Uganda disconnect non-compliant corporate SIM cards

Uganda ranked poor among countries with bad sim card registration policies

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Telecommunication companies in Uganda continue to disconnect mobile telephone lines that are assigned to corporate organizations which have failed to comply with the UCC guidelines issued last year.

The regulator says they have received complaints alleging failure and/or refusal by operators to adhere to the set SIM card registration processes, especially in respect of SIM cards sold to corporate customers.

Other unnatural persons include trusts duly incorporated or registered under the Trustees Incorporation Act Cap 165, Embassies, Foreign Missions and Consulates, duly recognized in Uganda.

The companies issued warnings starting March through April 2021 to the SIM card holders about the impending disconnection, and they have now taken the move to disconnect the non-compliant holders inline with the UCC guidelines.

“Airtel Uganda is a compliant company hence we have implemented the directive of the regulator – Uganda Communications Commission (UCC),” said Sumin Namaganda, Airtel Public Relations Manager, declining to give further details.

In June 2020, UCC directed telecom companies in Uganda to temporarily suspend the sale of SIM cards to companies, NGOs and public institutions pending investigations into allegations of fraud in SIM card registration, especially regarding corporate bodies.

“The suspension is to avert the risk of further breach of the law pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigations,” said Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, UCC Executive Director. 

Sewankambo said that because the UCC Act allowed corporate organizations to have unlimited numbers of SIM cards, it was difficult to control crime committed with the aid of mobile phones.

“However, it is alleged that unscrupulous individuals took advantage of this loophole to submit fake company documents to providers on the basis of which they got multiple SIM cards registered,” said Sewankambo.

Sim card registration for individual customers was not affected by this regulatory action. In August 2020, the commission and the telecom operators proposed guidelines to be used in streamlining this business segment.

This led to the lifting of the suspension on sale and registration of SIM cards to unnatural persons thus:

“As the Commission concludes the development of operational guidelines for corporate SIM card registration in Uganda, the Commission has in accordance with its statutory mandate under sections 5(1)(b) & (j), 39, 48 and schedule 6(I)(K) of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and Section 9 of the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010, lifted the suspension on the sale of SIM cards to unnatural persons including corporate bodies, subject to strict compliance with the following conditions:”

The guidelines issued compel the operator to obtain from the client details that include a certified copy of the organisation’s certificate of incorporation or operating certificate from the relevant regulator.

Others include certified particulars of directors, a copy of the National ID of the CEO, the registered address of the organisation, its Tax Identification Number, and a letter on the organisation’s letterhead signed by the CEO authorizing the purchase of the SIM cards and the purpose for which they are being acquired.

The telecom operator is then required to search at the respective registration agencies like the NGO Bureau or the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), to ascertain the authenticity of the details supplied by the customer at the customer’s cost.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the procedure for corporate SIM card registration shall not include registration and sale of SIM cards to partnerships, firms, sole proprietorships and registered business names,” the guideline say, adding that such business owners shall be asked to buy sim cards in their personal names.

The guidelines also bar the telecoms from issuing a SIM card to or cards to an organisation where the card is to be used by an individual or employee of the organisation.

“The telecom operator must decline to register the sim card as a corporate registration and instead advise the individual intended to use the sim card to be the one to acquire it in his or her name using his National ID for Ugandans, or Passport for foreigners.”

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The guidelines now limit the number of SIM cards an organisation can buy from a telecom operator to 100, unless express permission is provided by the UCC. This applies whether the cards are acquired at once or cumulatively over a period of time.

The telecom companies were then given 30 days to develop their own guidelines on registration and sale of SIM cards to corporations.

They also had 90 days to audit their database to harmonise and align it with this directive.

At the end of the period in March 2021, telecoms started sending warning messages to the SIM card holders to comply with the new directive and guidelines, before the companies started disconnecting them.

UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa says any client who is not satisfied with the telecom’s actions should complain to the regulator.

“Operators have a directive from the Commission to comply with the same directive and if a party is dissatisfied by the compliance actions of a telecom operator, they can seek redress from the Commission,” said Bbosa.

All the major active telecoms refused to divulge any figures about the affected clients or lines.