Some mobile phone subscribers at a registration centre at Dansoman on Monday
Some mobile phone subscribers at a registration centre at Dansoman on Monday

SIM card Deactivation: Mobile money account holders cry out

When the National Communications Authority (NCA) fixed June 1, 2023 as the final deadline for the SIM card re-registration, Rita Sey took it with a pinch of salt.

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She held the belief that it was one of the usual warnings that had accompanied the exercise which began two years ago.

Her belief, however, came crashing down when her network subscription was blocked by the service provider on the instructions of the NCA, the regulator of the telecommunications sector.

To her surprise and pain, Ms Sey could not use neither data nor voice services. As if that was not enough, her mobile money account had also been blocked.

“It was the MoMo that got me scared because all my savings are in MoMo. I don’t operate a bank account,” Ms Sey, who is one of the nine million subscribers whose subscriber identification module (SIM) cards were deactivated, told the Daily Graphic.

Like thousands of others, she had come to the MTN head office on Independence Avenue in Accra in a strenuous move to get her more than 13-year-old SIM card reactivated.

Hundreds affected

A visit to other offices of mobile network operators (MNOs) revealed that hundreds of subscribers whose SIM cards have been deactivated had besieged the offices to have their services restored.

As the mass deactivation of the unregistered SIM cards affects access to mobile money accounts, many say their lives almost came to a standstill during the weekend.

During an interaction with many of the subscribers, some of them said they had managed to obtain the Ghana Card, the only identification document that was accepted for the re-registration exercise only a few days ago.

They, therefore, expressed frustration and disappointment with the turn of events.

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A television presenter, Darlington Ampofo, popularly known as DNA, who was at the MTN head office last Friday to have his service restored, told the Daily Graphic that the ‘sudden’ deactivation of his service had brought serious discomfort to him and had obstructed his business activities. 

He said it was within the right of subscribers to register their SIM cards. Re-registration was not a prerequisite at the time they were acquiring the SIM card.

“This is not fair because when I was acquiring the card I was not told that there would be a time when I had to register it, with any particular identification document so the sudden deactivation cannot be fair to subscribers,” Mr Ampofo said.

 Another affected subscriber, who only gave her name as Maame Serwaa, expressed frustration over the deactivation of her SIM card and the restriction to access her mobile money account, recounting how that had made life difficult for her and her children throughout the weekend.

She said because her mobile money account was blocked, her two children were unable to go to school yesterday.

“I had to come to town to get access to an ATM to get cash so the children are at home with the caretaker, they did not go to school today,” Maame Serwaa told the Daily Graphic.

System breakdown

The NCA has declined to offer any more grace period for the mass re-registration.

As such, those who visited the various MNO offices were unable to get their service reactivated because the web application used for the biometric verification component of the re-registration process went off.

The crowds waited for hours only to be turned away in the evening.

“Many people had to return home because the App has been down since morning. I have been trying to load the details of one person for about two hours now but that has not gone through,” an agent at one of the service centres said.

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Although the process takes less than five minutes, the hold-up for reconnection had been due to the slow connection of the application provided by the regulator, the agent said.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, Dr Kenneth Ashigbey, told the Daily Graphic that the application used for the biometric verification was restored yesterday by the vendor and that more people were expected to complete the process to have their SIM cards reconnected.

He said the grace period for reactivating of deactivated SIM cards was undefined and the public must, therefore, take advantage of it now.

“The most important thing is that the grace period is not defined. The NCA has just given us this concession to go ahead and just bar, but not delete. But they are monitoring the situation and checking those who are not really interested,” he said.

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Dr Ashigbey added that about 8.9 million SIM cards had been deactivated since last Thursday. 

Although he was unable to state the exact number of SIM cards that had been reactivated, he said the window was open now for the reactivation for those who would be able to complete the process.

“You know the initial directive by the NCA was to bar, deactivate and de-link from the SIM database but engaging with players in the industry, the NCA has been magnanimous enough to say that currently we should bar. 

“What is happening is that, all of the 8.9 million subscribers are not able to make calls, not able to send SMS, neither are they able to also do mobile money or do any of the data services,” Dr Ashigbey said.

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He encouraged affected persons who had now obtained the Ghana Card to dial *404# and begin the re-registration process. 

“Once they do the linking, they have to go ahead and get their biometrics captured to complete their registration. When they do that,
they then restore their services and get their numbers back,” Dr Ashigbey advised.

Dr Ashigbey said the option available for persons whose mobile money accounts had been blocked was the same as any other affected subscriber.

“What they need to do is to get their Ghana Card and get their SIM card registered.

“If they register their SIM,they will get their mobile money back but if they do not have their Ghana Card yet, they can contact the NCA on 03070114119 or reach them on the toll number 080110622,” he added.

Context

At the inception of the re-registration exercise on October 1, 2021, there were about 42 million active SIM cards in the country.

They were made up of SIM cards registered with identity cards (IDs) such as the National Health Insurance Scheme cards, passports, and driving licence.

The NCA at whose behest the re-registration started said a lot of the IDs were not verified at the time they were used to register the SIMs, hence the re-registration.

After the first phase of the exercise,there were about 36 million active SIM cardsin circulation as of last month, out of which 25 million (69.6 per cent) had been duly re-registered.

This means that over 25.4 million SIM cards had completed both stages one and two of the SIM re-registration which was done with verified Ghana Cards.

The remaining 11 million,representing 30.4 per cent,include active SIM cards exempted based on various demographics and active SIM cards that had not been registeredwith the Ghana Card using the current process.

Already the NCA has deactivated about 6.1 million SIM cards which belonged to subscribers that had completed only stage one of the current registration process.

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