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MPs to meet telecoms over airtime scratch card ban

ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze explained to the House on the expected advantages of use of electronic recharge systems to the Country. (FILE PHOTO)

KAMPALA- Akamba Paul (MP- Busiki County) on the 24th July 2018 regarding the ban of Air time scratch cards.

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 to find solutions to the phone-based security threats.

It is said, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) in liaison with other security agencies recommended to Government that in order to eliminate SIM Card related crimes and improve traceability of mobile phone users, there was need to ban the vending of air time cards as this was directly linked to the selling of illegally registered Sim cards and would facilitate airtime recharge and top-ups manually without any digital tracing.

Minister Tumwebaze told Parliament that the use of electronic recharge systems was therefore recommended as the most viable and secure option, with so many other attendant advantages.

He went on to defend the ban saying Uganda isn’t the only nation around the world to adopt this system of payment citing South Sudan and Zimbabwe as some of the nations that have this ban in place.

To further defend the electronic air time recharge, Tumwebaze highlighted some of the advantages that will come with the ban on airtime scratch arguing it will go a long way into improving the process of directly tracing vendors and eventually their customers who procure airtime electronically.

He said that this will be possible as all vendors who have been selling the paper version of airtime 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,” the Minister remarked.

Ceclia Ogwal (Dokolo Woman) protested the ban saying it will lead to loss of jobs especially amongst women who have been selling airtime alongside newspapers on the street, warning that the new move is likely to bring along terrible consequences.

“The people who are actually more engaged in selling scratch cards are women. Can you also tell us if you have done some research, when you brush these women aside, where are you going to deploy these women? Are you aware you are forcing women into unemployment, desperation and probably into prostitution?” Ogwal asked.

In response Tumwebaze said that digitisation of airtime will instead create more opportunities through formalized distribution and also will 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.

Government banned the use scratch card starting from 31st July. Parliament seeks more clarification regarding the matter. (FILE PHOTO)

At the time of raising the matter last week, Akamba rejected Government’s claim that the electronic airtime purchase will improve the environmental conservation, wondering why Government doesn’t turn its gun on effecting kaveera ban and go after inconsequential items like airtime scratch cards.

Tumwebaze defended the stand saying the new system will reduce e-waste caused by the many scratch cards that are thrown into the environment.

“I am happy that Akamba acknowledges that paper scratch cards were adding to the environment menace. However, if we have not yet succeeded in banning buvera, it does not mean that we should condone any other waste that contributes to the already bad situation,” said the Minister.

Furthermore, Government argues that 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, highlighting that on a number of occasions, security agencies have arrested a number of people defrauding members of the public through sale of fake air time scratch cards.

Additionally, Government stated that Air time scratch cards are a cost to the provision of communication services in Uganda as this involves the cost of manufacture, importation and distribution which increases the overall cost of doing business.

Yet still, according to Tumwebaze, the paper scratch cards are manufactured outside Uganda, and add onto our importation bill thereby facilitating capital flight noting that the new electronic recharge system, will rationalise all associated costs in the distribution system enumerated above and mitigate both importation of scratch cards and capital flight to some extent.

The Minister also added that electronic recharge system is one of the steps of inculcating among the citizens the culture of ecommerce by transacting digitally and slowly transition into a cashless economy.

He rejected accusations that the public hasn’t been sensitized about the new development pointing out that several public notices have been running in the mass media to prepare customers for the shift to the electronic recharge system.

With the new development, consumers can buy airtime using Easy Load, Mobile money, Me2U, Payway and several other electronic means, and these services are available across the country, at the same outlets that were selling paper air time vouchers.

At the moment, the mobile network operators have gradually phased out the distribution of scratch cards and majority of users are already using E-Top up and are also working out mechanisms to redeem any scratch cards that will still be in the hands of customers by 31st July 2018 with Telecom operators said to have put in place system to facilitate conversion of any unutilized scratch cards into mobile money.

He assured Ugandans that no customer will lose money and those with any unutilized air time cards will be refunded, although he didn’t mention within which period the Telecoms have to refund its subscribers.

Tumwebaze pointed out that he isn’t surprised at the initial resistance to the shift, but called on Ugandans to embrace these technology advancements and not resist, warning that if they insist on resisting technology then it will disrupt.

Kadaga didn’t pronounce herself on the prayers made by Akamba to halt the ban, but instead ordered the Minister to organize a meeting between Parliament and Telecom operators that will act as an awareness clinic to help MPs sensitise their voters.

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