Nation at crossroads over conflicting SIM card registration ultimatum

Minister Tumwebaze.

KAMPALA. Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) says it is tonight. Parliament says give the people more 365 days to sort themselves out. The Government interjects saying the issue of national security concern and cannot be stayed any longer. And while the authorities are at it telecom giants MTN awoke some of their unregistered clients yesterday, with a trilling message: “This is a soft suspension, dial *197*3#ok to submit your NIN, however, your SIM will be activated at noon today,” MTN said on Twitter in response to complaints by subscribers.

The telecom added that “numbers that are not fully registered are on a soft suspension, from 8am to mid-day.” To many Ugandans, the so-called ‘soft suspension’ was a direct attempt at arm-twisting subscribers to compel them to register their Simcards. A section of Ugandan elites have defiantly maintained that the enforced registration is illegal and that they would defy the process to the last dot. So what is going on? Where should a Ugandan stand in this state of chaotic information? Many Ugandans had breathed a sigh of relief upon Parliament’s ‘directive’ that later turned out to be a mere counsel. Parliament yesterday asked UCC to extend the registration of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards for up to a year.

While tabling the motion calling for the postponement of the deadline yesterday, Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Winfred Kiiza, said: “Many people are facing challenges registering their SIM cards.” Kiiza’s comments cannot be overstated. With the Government insisted on national identity cards as the only document valid for the registration of SIM cards, many Ugandans have found it too cumbersome a process. The National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), the agency tasked with registration of citizens for national IDs, has struggled to cope with pressure from the numbers.

Many Ugandans complain of being tossed from one centre to another over their bio-data and other requirements. However, the Government is not going to listen to any more excuses. It says it embarked on an exercise of ensuring that every SIM card of an individual gets validated and verified for purposes of ensuring secure and safer communications.SIM card registration exercise. Net.Government quashes Parliament directive The Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Frank Tumwebaze, in a statement, said the Parliament motion will not stop the Government from enforcing the ultimatum.

“The deadline of May 19 set by Government stands and will be enforced at midnight. All unregistered, unverified and un-validated SIM cards will be switched off initially for voice communications,” the minister said. However, he explained that while holders of unregistered or unverified SIM cards will not be able to receive or make calls, other services such as mobile money will not be affected so that subscribers do not lose their deposits.

“A transition period will be allowed for mobile money customers to either withdraw their balance or transfer them to registered SIM cards or to their banks. Deposit or receipt of more money on unregistered SIM cards will be disabled,” Tumwebaze said. Chris Obore, the director of communication at Parliament, said Parliament, as the Legislature, made a resolution for the SIM card registration to be extended, but that it was incumbent upon the Government to implement the resolution of Parliament. The minister said the overall objective of this exercise is purely to provide national security safeguards.

While mobile phone telecommunications is one of the most commonly used method of communication among citizens and has greatly revolutionised the way businesses are run, the Government argues that negative elements have also taken advantage of the same means of communication to plan, coordinate, finance and execute their criminal activities with ease and sophistication. The minister explained that criminals often acquire new SIM cards that either are unregistered in any name or fraudulently registered with wrong and falsified identities for use in the execution of their criminal operations and thereafter discard them so that they are not traced.

“The sustainable solution to this criminality is to ensure that all SIM cards and their users are properly registered using the correct identities,” Tumwebaze said. However, the deafening question that many citizens have been asking on how registration and verification of SIM cards will stop crime remain unanswered. Easing ID registration process The Government has also announced that it has instructed NIRA to allow new ID applicants whose IDs are still pending processing to use their application form numbers to register or verify their SIM cards and complete the process after acquiring the IDs.

Tumwebaze said there would be no need for citizens to clamour about deadlines as verification exercise will continue just as registration of citizens does.



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