The Minister of ICT and National Guidance Hon Frank Tumwebaze has defended his docket’s decision to scrap the use of airtime scratch cards, saying it’s high time the country embraced electronic recharge system commonly known as e-top up.
“Scratch cards contribute to environment waste and are sometimes forged and used to defraud unsuspecting customers,” said Tumwebaze.
“He further said scratch cards make traceability of criminals difficult and have a manufacturing cost which telecoms end up passing onto customers. They are a health hazard,” he added.
The Minister on Wednesday led his sector to meet the Parliamentary ICT committee.
Addressing MPs, UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi said the electronic recharge was discussed and agreed upon with the telecom service providers.
The regulator and telecommunications operators on March 19 resolved to end the sale of airtime scratch cards by June 30, 2018.
This was after the Commission banned SIM card vending.
Tumwebaze recently said mobile operators have already put in place systems 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 airtime cards,” he said.
MPs speak out
This decision was supported by MPs, who, however, called for massive sensitization of the public to avoid confusion.
The lawmakers said e-platforms for recharging air time are not known by rural communities, urging UCC to dedicate two months for awareness.
MP Cuthbert Abigaba, member of the ICT Committee, said he passionately support the e-airtime loading to “solve the problem of airtime fraud which my constituents have been suffering with some vendors selling fake scratch cards.”
Rujumbura MP Hon Fred Turyamuhweza said the e-loading initiative was “one way of fighting fraud,” emphasizing, “We need intensified sensitization of the public.”
Hon James Acidiri (Maracha East) said the comparative advantages of electronic recharge system outweigh the need for scratch cards.
“We should go digital, it will help in security matters. But if UCC doesn’t check abuses, we will not achieve our goal.”
Meanwhile, MPs asked UCC to explain why 40 percent of the mobile phones on the market in Uganda are fake.
“I don’t know why we have failed to ban importation of fake phones. Why can’t we switch them off?” asked Hon Paul Amoru.
Mutabazi announced a plan to switch off the fake phones.
“This will commence in three months time,” said Mutabazi, who quickly added that, “restricting importation of fake phones is a mandate of URA.”
Acidiri urged UCC to address the idea of VPN so the state can collect OTT tax effectively and wholesomely.
But Tumwebaze said “OTT (social media tax) is not our mandate. It is a taxation issue which is the mandate of the Finance ministry. Sim card registration was a security issue, for us we come in to explain the position of government.”
On unregistered simcards on the market, Tumwebaze asked Parliament to dialogue with the security agencies.
MPs asked Mutabazi to explain how areas with poor network connectivity will cope with electronic recharge system.
The UCC chief said mobile network access was being improved and deepened across the country.
“We shall be talking about 4G in 2019. About network, we have statistics showing that Uganda is doing much better,” said, before admitting, “of course we know there is need for improvement.”
MP Amoru said government should not “abandon the network issue to Telecom companies.”