There are still many loopholes that lead to misuse of SIM cards though the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) because of time-lag between buying one and having it registered.
A weeklong survey conducted by The Guardian has shown that SIM card vendors and customers alike can sell and buy the chips without necessarily registering them and play all sorts of evil games with the same, including using them for abusive purposes, theft and other forms of crime.
Our investigation has shown that one can buy the chip and start using it before registration and in case they decide to register it, they still can use false names as presentation of identities is not obligatory.
The Guardian has also established that SIM card vendors can also furnish false information to the mobile phone operators -- false identity cards to have the customer registered.
Interviewed Dar es Salaam residents have questioned the rationale behind the mandatory registration of SIM cards when the ongoing misuse and people’s wellbeing and respect are not safeguarded.
“I think more needs to be done by the respective agencies and the network providers to ensure that people do not have access to SIM cards before they register because by allowing the use of unregistered cards it makes the exercise which was conducted useless,” said one of the communication experts.
In South Africa and Kenya, for example, he said, registration of SIM cards was under the regulatory authority and government, not mobile phone firms. The work of the phone companies is to do business, since they are after profit, he added.
“The way it is in Tanzania is that the actual registrar is the mobile phone companies, not the regulatory authorities,” he said.
Tulimyake Kanyamale, a resident of Mabibo in Dar es Salaam wondered if there was need for subscribers to register their cards since there seems to be no restrictions imposed on unregistered SIM cards.
“For TCRA to make the entire exercise look meaningful, it is imperative to ensure that all unregistered cards are not accessed unless they are registered by respective authorities,” Kanyamale said.
She hastened to add that the situation contributes to the increase in the number of subscribers who maliciously use the cards to insult people and even threaten their peace and security.
She said it is common to receive calls or messages from unidentified callers with the intention of insulting others.
When the abused person tries to follow up the mobile number, he or she is told that the number they are calling not reachable, she said.
Another Dar resident, Goldebetha Brown told The Guardian in an interview: “Although one of the SIM card registration requirements is to provide a genuine ID, the condition is not often considered by the SIM card vendors as mandatory, hence registration is also possible by furnishing wrong information.
“I didn’t want my name to be identified on the SIM cards I was purchasing, so I pretended that I had lost my ID and other relevant documents, including my Automatic Teller Machine Card. The idea was to persuade the vendor at the General Post Bus Station to sell me the card. It wasn’t a big deal to get it,” Brown said.
However, she said, a vendor at Mwenge Bus Stand, who was attending customers, asked her to bring the ID at a later day, even though she sold her a SIMcard as well as registering it.
In the entire transaction — SIMcard and mobile money registration — the vendor collected 1,500/- from Brown, and that was all.
But before the subscriber vanished, the vendor called her back and informed her that in case she did not have an ID, she could as well bring one from a friend or a neighbour so that it could be copied and forwarded to the network provider for records.
Mama Rhodfrey, a businesswoman based in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday bought three different SIM cards from a vendor at Ubungo and started enjoying communication through the network providers without any of them registering her.
Two days ago, social activist Deus Kibamba blamed the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) for relaxing while many subscribers still misuse the SIM cards they have bought and some of them it is believed they have been registered before going on air.
He explained the kind of messages that were spread after the killing of Father Evarist Mushi of St Joseph Parish at Shangani in Unguja recently.
“…I have just received a text message telling me that the battle goes on until all the ‘kafirs’ are eliminated in Zanzibar…,” he said.
For her part, Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, executive director of Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC), urged the government through its security organs to seriously work on the unpalatable messages that are being spread through cellular phones by unidentified people who have registered their SIM cards.
Commenting, TCRA public relations manager Innocent Mungy said the registration of SIM cards is conducted under the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (EPOCA) which apart from other regulations requires the subscriber to show his or her ID before being registered.
“It is against the EPOCA for anyone to own a SIM card without fulfilling the regulations…it is unacceptable and impossible!, so if there is any mobile network provider who keeps registering subscribers without considering this requirement, it is criminal offence which must be reported immediately to the police,” he said.
However, Mungy urged mobile phone users to buy SIM cards at mobile network providers’ shops instead of doing getting them from street vendors, who may sometime turn to be fake service providers.
In 2010 the government embarked on registration of all SIM cards with the intention of curbing misuse of mobile phones for crimes and to enhance security. It is estimated that there were over 20 million mobile phone subscribers in the country by last year.