18 May 2017

Uganda: Parliament 'Extends' SIM-Card Registration By Another Year

Photo: The New Times
(file photo).

Parliament has today voted to extend the sim-card registration exercise by at least several months just a few hours to the set deadline.

In the afternoon plenary session chaired by Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga, MPs resolved that government extends the exercise for up to one year to enable a number of Ugandans who have not yet accessed their national identity cards to register.

The resolution followed a motion by Leader of Opposition (LoP) Winnie Kiiza who asked that Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) extends the verification and validation exercise of sim-cards.

Kiiza also demanded that UCC directs telecommunication companies to deactivate the unregistered sim-cards in a phased manner rather than in a sudden cut-off as promised.

"I also know that this [verification] information has not reached the users of the phones. The messages are in English and Luganda. Our people in the villages don't know English. Our people in the villages don't know Luganda.

"Not all of them know these languages, so you still need some time to explain to the voters the ways of having their sim-cards registered. We still need time to tell our grand mothers and grand fathers the registration processes. Those who have been able to see what is happening at the registration centres, you will know that there is still a lot to be desired", she said.

Kiiza's motion was seconded by shadow attorney general Wilfred Niwagaba, Manjiya county MP John Baptist Nambeshe and Mukono South MP Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga.

Niwagaba, the Ndorwa West MP said that some Ugandans have not got their national IDs because of the inefficiency of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

He reminded parliament about the right and freedom of communication enshrined in the Constitution under Article 27 (2) giving Ugandans the right of privacy of communication.

"Although we believe that the intentions of sim-card registration are good for everybody, it is also our belief that doing so in the utter disregard of citizens right is not good," said Niwagaba.

Niwagaba also questioned the safety of people's personal details in the hands of private telecommunications companies and in the absence of a data protection law.

Government Chief Whip Ruth Nankabirwa also supported the extension but reminded legislators that the exercise was informed by a security threat. Therefore, she said parliament's decision should be in a manner that government decides on an appropriate extension. At this point, Kadaga put a question for legislators to approve an extension of not more than a year.

"Honourable members the proposal is that the extension runs for no more than one year... And the ayes have it"

On April 19 in a letter addressed to Godfrey Mutabazi, the UCC executive director, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the initial deadline of April 20 had been reviewed and extended to May 19, 2017.

Earlier today, High court judge Stephen Musota dismissed an application seeking to stop UCC from switching off the unregistered sim-cards after the deadline on Friday until the main petition challenging the exercise is disposed of.

Youth activist, Norman Tumuhimbise and Rights Trumpet Ltd had earlier dragged UCC to the civil division of the High court challenging the ongoing sim-card subscriber verification process.

This was six days after UCC issued a seven-day ultimatum within which all subscribers of mobile telecom services to update their sim-card details using only their national identification card.

But Justice Musota today ruled that the interim application in which the petitioners were seeking to temporarily block UCC from continuing with the process had been overtaken by events. He therefore dismissed it with costs.

The costs however, are to be awarded after the main application is determined.

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