The government will not extend a looming deadline for verification of cellphone sim cards.
Security minister Henry Tumukunde told MPs this afternoon that deactivation of unverified sim cards will go ahead on the set deadline of August 30 which six days away.
All telecom subscribers are supposed to verify their subscribers’ sim cards using national ID details before the deadline.
Lt. Gen. (rtd) Tumukunde was meeting MPs on a joint committee comprising legislators from the ICT Internal Affairs and Defense as well as the Equal Opportunities Commission when he broke the news of government’s resolve.
Accompanying him to the meeting was the minister for internal affairs Jeje Odong and the Executive Director of the National Identification and Registration of persons Authority (NIRA) Judith Obitre Gama.
His revelation was not well received. The chairperson of the ICT committee Annet Nyakecho felt that Ugandans should not be punished for NIRA’s weaknesses.
She was joined by the MP for Buyaga East Eric Musana who blamed the government for failing to put up more registration centres upcountry forcing citizens to trek long distances, sometimes even to the capital in order to register for their IDs.
“Why should I really move from Kagadi; I go to Kololo, to get a NIN?” Musana wondered.
Gen. Jeje Odong confirmed earlier reporting that at least 4.6 million sim cards with mismatching details have not been verified out of a total of 31 million sim card particulars submitted for verification.
The security minister said government’s position to maintain the deadline was agreed following consultations between departments responsible for the registration of persons and verification of sim cards.
As already noted, the government’s decision is bound to upset sections of the public who have been calling for an extension of the deadline owing to the slow progress made by NIRA in registration of persons and issuance Identity cards.
But Lt. Gen. insisted that despite the insufficient resources and constraints experienced by NIRA, the threat of insecurity is a bigger challenge that cannot be ignored. He noted that the inconvenience of the deadline must be endured in order to minimise insecurity in the country.
“It will have vast negative effects on the security of Ugandans, [aggravating] our inability to successfully investigate cases of crime and even terrorism perpetrated by using mobile phone devices.” He said of failure to meet the deadline.
He also said the credibility of the government is at stake, given that the deadline has been pushed twice.
The last extension came on the heels of a parliamentary resolution compelling the government to acknowledge a countrywide public outcry as millions stared the possibility of being locked out in the face.
According to information handed to the committee by the government team, out of 21.5 million Ugandans who have been registered so far only 17.2 million National Identification Numbers have been allocated. About 16.2 million ID cards have been printed.
Meanwhile, Mazuri MP Maxwell Akora noted that the telecom sector has recorded a drop in performance since the sim card verification exercise started.
“It is not the mistake of telecom companies that National ID Numbers were not available, so certainly the sector is suffering as a result of this security requirement,” Akora said.
Assuring MPs that there were plans to spread out registration centres, the security minister also took the opportunity to appeal to Parliament to support increased funding for NIRA in order to achieve this objective.
“You are preaching to the converted and I would want that actually when NIRA comes here seeking that you help them to fully establish these offices you will understand the need.”
Separately, Lt. Gen. Tumukunde revealed there will be a second verification phase where subscribers will be sent messages to confirm numbers that have been registered using their NINs.
This second exercise will weed out the possibility of stolen or misplaced NINs being (mis)used to verify sim cards not necessarily belonging to their true owners.
He told MPs that the responsible government agencies and ministries are meeting with the prime minister at 5 p.m. today to agree on how to execute the switch-off exercise.