7 May 2014

Ghana: SIM Card Registration Re-Run Inevitable, but ...

The Ghana Government and the six telecommunication service providers in the country are said to be in a tussle as to whether or not there should be a re-run of the registration of the various Sim cards sold to the public by the GSM companies.

The six companies - MTN, Vodaphone, TiGo, Airtel, Glo Mobile and Expresso - between 2010 and 2012, did a compulsory registration of the Sim cards of all their subscribers, in obedience with a directive by the National Communications Authority that no unregistered Sims should be allowed on any network from January 2012. That exercise was backed in law by the Subscriber Identity Mobile Registration Regulations 2011 (L.I 2006). Having gone through that registration at their own expense, it must gall the telecom service providers to be told to do a re-run and incur additional cost.

But, sifting the wheat from the chaff, The Chronicle agrees with the government that the re-run is inevitable, but the government would be unfair to ram it down the throats of the telecoms without being sensitive to their feelings. The government is right to be concerned that the security objective of the Sims registration had not been met, in the face of the claim that there were about 2,340,000 prank calls to the Ghana Police Service and the Ghana National Fire Service in 2013 alone.

If that objective had been met, each of the almost 2.4 million calls should be traceable to their makers, but this has not been possible. This implies that there is the same number of Sims whose holders used fake identities to acquire. As Communications Minister Omane Boamah put it, "Without a proper identification system (which is what the NIA is working on to ensure we have), and without linking the registration system to that individual who is registered, it is impossible to be able to trace that person to it."

Touché! That is precisely the point. Why did the government put the cart before the horse, when it knew that it did not have a foolproof identification system in place? Unfortunately, the GSM companies are shooting themselves in the foot in this case. Instead of telling government to its face that it cannot hold them responsible for the fake ID cards in the system, which were used for the fake Sims registration, it goes about enumerating moneys they are spending on corporate social responsibility, and issuing veiled threats of moving their businesses elsewhere.

Said Kweku Sakyi-Addo, CEO of the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, at a Digital Family Forum in Accra recently: "These dollars know no national, racial, religious or sectional boundaries. Investment resources are nomadic, and will settle where there's an oasis, where returns are most promising. "We must continue to make Ghana even more of such an oasis. The government must strike a careful, delicate balance between short-term tax demands, with the longer term potential for even greater tax revenues from enterprises/businesses that have become more efficient and grown on the back of this industry - our industry."

Good luck to them, if that is their wish. They will be replaced promptly by other eager investors within days. No matter how valuable CSR is, and the need for it, it cannot be exchanged for national security. The Chronicle's advice to the GSM companies, while we all await the NIA's standard Ghana national ID cards, is to husband their resources and get ready for the inevitable, instead of wasting time and resources attempting to fight the government on an issue they can never win. A word to the wise ...

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