The telecom operators have said it is unfair for the National Communication Authority (NCA) to hold them collectively responsible for the millions of invalid SIM registrations that face deactivation, come March 3, 2012, the legally mandated deadline by which all SIMs in this country should have been registered.
Executives of each of the telecom operators who spoke with Adom News on grounds of anonymity said they did not want to engage the NCA in banter publicly because they are essential in support of the whole SIM registration exercise.
But they felt the NCA Boss, Paarock VanPercy misfired in blaming them for the millions of invalid SIM registration and that is unfair, because the NCA is fully aware of what effort each operator has put in to make the exercise succeed.
The NCA Boss said the telecom operators were responsible for registering the SIMs of their respective subscribers, but they decided to hire agents who did a shoddy job because of “poor supervision” by the operators.
He said the millions of invalid registrations discovered during the verification process was because those agents, who were paid per how many SIMs they registered, did lots of registrations without valid IDs such as passport, Voter ID, NHIS card, NIA card or Drivers License.
Mr. VanPercy noted that lots of the agents also got some of the details of subscribers wrongly, and the operators should have done proper monitoring to ensure those mistakes did not occur or were at the barest minimum.
As a result, as of February 6, 2012, records show that an estimated 7.5 million, or less, mobile phone numbers face possible deactivation come March 3, 2012.
But the telecom operators say the NCA is only shifting blame, when in fact the entire identification system of the country is deficient, and the NCA's own manual verification process had flaws, which created room for some amount of human error.
An executive of one of the operators said the company spent millions of Ghana cedis to train and deploy agents to do the registration and they monitored the agents weekly to ensure they did the right thing.
That executive also said it hurts to hear the NCA talk that way because in some countries, the government had a budget for the SIM Registration exercise and everything the telcos did was funded by the government, but in Ghana the telcos are paying for the exercise even though they contribute 10% of government's tax revenue.
Another executive said the NCA is only passing the buck because the identification system that formed the basis for the verification process itself had huge deficiencies, one of which was that it is largely hand-written, and not computerized.
That executive also said there is no evidence to show the people the NCA hired to carry out the verification process went through any eye screening to ensure they were fit to carry out such a tedious manual process as marching IDs to hand-written names in volumes of books.
One asked “have you seen the way and manner in which they do the verification, and the conditions under which they work…you should see it for yourself then you can judge whether that is an exercise that can be taken seriously.”
Another said the NCA is deliberately ignoring the fact the telcos did not generate the ID cards people used in registering their SIMs so the telcos could not validate those ID cards at the registration point.
That executive also said the NCA is deliberately ignoring the fact that the entire ID system in Ghana and in Africa is problematic, and that through no fault of the telcos and probably even the NCA's, these challenges were bound to occur.
“For instance, when we started the registration process we were photocopying people's IDs to ensure some authenticity but at some point we had to stop because some of the picture IDs were not clear and others had names mis-spelt and such other challenges,” he said, adding “so we need to fix our ID system instead of playing this blame game.”
Each of the telcos however admitted some agents did some amount of underhand deals during the registration process and those who were found were either sacked or arrested and handed over to the police.
“Today if we find a wrongly registered SIM we can trace it to the agent who registered it and if necessary have that person face the law,” one executive said.
While the telcos and NCA argue over who is to blame, the fact still remains that millions of phone users in this country stand the risk of losing their numbers come March 3, 2012, unless they take advantage of the house cleaning window now.
The telcos have provided a common short code, 400, to which phone users could send a blank message and receive a reply indicating whether one's SIM is registered or not.
The telcos said they foresee possible group actions against them in court if genuinely registered SIMs are deactivated wrongly.
But one executive has assured subscribers who might have their SIM wrongly deactivated that there is always the opportunity to get their number back if they present the right particulars to properly register their SIMs.
Story by Samuel Nii Narku Dowuona/Adom News/Ghana