The process towards the ban on airtime scratch cards was started when Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the sector operators informed the public about the plan in March 2018. Hence forth the sector players agreed to set 31st July 2018 (today) as the deadline for the use of paper air time cards, after carefully evaluating the process necessary to effect the ban.
During today’s plenary, the minister for ICT, Frank Tumwebaze while reading a statement on the ban told members of parliament that several public notices have been running in the mass media to prepare customers for the shift to the electronic recharge system.
Tumwebaze said that consumers can now buy airtime using Easy Load, Mobile money, Me2U, Payway and several other electronic means, and that these services are available across the country in the same outlets that were selling airtime vouchers. He stated that mobile network operators have gradually phased out the distribution of scratch cards and the majority of users are already using E-Top up.
Tumwebaze added that to those clients who are still in possession of scratch cards, they are working out mechanisms to redeem them by 31st July 2018. “Mobile operators have already put in place system to facilitate conversion of any unutilized scratch cards into mobile money. Through this system, no customer will lose money. They will be refunded for any unutilized air time cards,” Tumwebaze said.
He further told parliament that telecom companies are working with their agents and distributors across the country to ensure that there is seamless transition from the old system to the new system.
The proposal to wipe out airtime scratch cards first received some criticism from some MPs. However, the minister reminded parliament of the past killings and crimes committed using mobile phones.
“Hon. Speaker and colleagues, we all remember that early this year, our country experienced an unprecedented surge in the number of crimes committed using mobile phones, including the rampant kidnaps and murders of several women, such as Susan Magara and the Entebbe women. In order to improve the security situation, in March 2018, Cabinet agreed to the streamlining of Sim Card registration processes and an inter-Ministerial Committee of Cabinet involving Internal Affairs, Security and ICT was tasked to engage with Telecom operators with a view of finding solutions to the phone-based security threats.” Tumwebaze said.
He added that several measures were implemented, including requiring all telecom operators to install biometric card readers such that all sim card registrations and sim swaps are done only upon electronic verification of the biometric details of the sim card applicant.
Tumwebaze stated that UCC and the security agencies recommended 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.
“The use of electronic recharge systems was therefore recommended as the most viable and secure option,” Tumwebaze said. It has improved the process of directly tracing vendors/hawkers/stockists and eventually their customers who procure airtime electronically.
Vendors who have been selling scratch cards have been given the opportunity to sell the same airtime in a digital format using an ordinary phone as a tool of trade, and have been duly registered by the telecom operators. There is therefore no inconvenience to anybody since the same people and outlets that were selling the paper scratch cards are the same points of sale for the electronic recharge.
Tumwebaze added that digitization of airtime shall create more job opportunities through formalised distribution, contrary to earlier worries that the process will lead to massive job losses. It will also improve revenue assurance by Government, since with the electronic system, URA can determine the amount of Airtime sold by Telecom operators and agents and thus rule out any tax under declarations.
Furthermore, the use of electronic recharge systems will protect the public against purchase of fake air time scratch cards intended to defraud unsuspecting members of the public and enhance security measures on telecom related services because there shall be traceability in the entire transaction.