18 May 2017

Uganda: High Court Dismisses SIM-Card Registration Application

With just a day to the deadline, High court judge, Stephen Musota has dismissed an application seeking to stop Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) from switching off the un-registered sim-cards.

On April 18, Norman Tumuhimbise and Rights Trumpet Ltd dragged UCC to the civil division of the High court challenging the ongoing sim-card subscriber verification process.

Through Niwagaba and Mwebesa Advocates, the petitioners argued that it was unfair and unconstitutional for UCC to restrict citizens to using only national IDs for registration yet there are other official documents like passports which foreign nationals were allowed to use for the exercise.

In their main suit, the petitioners want court to set aside and declare as invalid UCC's decision. On April 12, 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.

Edwin Karugire, the counsel for UCC asked court to dismiss the application with costs since it had been overtaken by events. Eron Niwagaba, the lawyer for the petitioners agreed that the application seeking injunction had been over taken by events and asked court to hear the main application that seeks to determine the legality of the process.

Niwagaba argued that the applicants are not to blame since their application was a public interest matter and that circumstances that led the application be over taken by events were not caused by the applicants themselves.

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. Each party has been given a week to make written submissions. The applicants have been given May 25 and UCC given June 1 to respond and make rejoinders by June after which the court will set the dates for hearing the application.

Following a meeting with various telecom companies last month, UCC warned that all sim-cards whose details are not updated and verified by service providers before mid-night tomorrow May 19 would be deactivated.

Activist Tumuhimbise, one of the petitioners, has told URN that they oppose the behaviour and the manner in which their case was handled by the presiding judge. He noted that they are referring the matter to the principal judge for redress.

"We have heard from rumours that every time you see a one Edwin Karugire representing any agency, then you know it is politics at play. For that case therefore, we're running to the principal judge for our formal complaint. With our lawyers hereafter, are simply writing in and also meeting the principal judge in person to show our discontent. Also, notwithstanding in case they choose to keep a deaf ear, as the Jobless Brotherhood and as activists we're summoning our high command meeting today to have a resolution on either to carry out a country-wide demonstration or otherwise. We are not seated, we are going to do something, and you know when we say something, we never promise air", he said.

Abdu Salam Waiswa, the head of legal department at UCC welcomed the ruling saying the one-month given to people as an extension was enough for every Ugandan to secure a national identity card.

"What they have done is a good action, the one month people were given has been adequate for every Ugandan to obtain a national ID and validate their phones. So, I urge all Ugandans not to use any excuses to hide behind the law and derail government's efforts to improve our security situation. We urge all Ugandans to comply with this directive, and ensure that their mobile phones are properly validated in order to avoid the implications and the consequences of non-registration because indeed tomorrow after midnight tomorrow the phones will be deactivated", he said.

Waiswa appealed to Ugandans to stop hiding behind laws to dodge registration. He noted that any vigilant Ugandan should have acquired their national identity cards two years ago.

"That is because people have been reluctant to do what they are supposed to do. You are all aware this law came into force in 2015. So any vigilant Ugandan ought to have obtained a national ID two years ago. Whoever has not gotten it, in the last 7 days and even the last 30 days, anybody who was vigilant enough would have gone to NIRA offices and obtain a national ID or better else obtained a national identification number [NIN] which is all we need for Ugandans to validate their phone numbers", he added.

According to UCC, as of Monday May 15, the preliminary records received from telecom operators indicated that about 18.2 million sim-cards had been validated out of about 22.8 million sim-cards.

"18. million Ugandans have validated their sim-cards. That was as of Monday, so as of today, it is possible that maybe 20 million have actually validated. Remember, we have a total number of about 22.8 million sim-cards but not all those sim-cards are held by different people. These sim-cards are held by people with many phones. Some of the sim-cards are held in landlines, others in modems. So we believe the number of people who have validated is significantly big. The only people that have not been validated are those that have been against this process.

Waiswa insists that Ugandans have had enough time to register and that there should be no more excuses.

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