19 May 2017

Uganda: MPs Block SIM Card Registration Deadline

With the High court dismissing an application seeking interim orders to halt the switching off of unregistered Sim cards, Uganda Communications Commission had vowed to switch of all non-validated phone lines by midnight tonight, only for Parliament to block the move.

Parliament yesterday passed a resolution to extend the deadline earlier given by UCC to switch off unregistered Sim cards by not more than one year.

The deadline was due to expire today. Winnie Kiiza, the Leader of Opposition, moved the motion to urge the government extend the validation exercise.

The shadow attorney general, Wilfred Niwagaba, seconded the motion, pointing out that some Ugandans have yet to get their national IDs due to the inefficiency of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga concurred, ruling that the extension should take not more than a year. NIRA had earlier revealed that 15 million Sim cards have so far been validated, while more than one million have been rejected for submitting inconsistent data.

Speaking to The Observer at their offices in Kololo yesterday, Michael Muganga, the NIRA assistant public relations officer, said Sim cards that were not verified either had wrong national identification numbers (NIN) or the names didn't correspond with the NINs.

"By the end of yesterday [Wednesday] we had verified about 15 million Sim cards. We also rejected more than one million others, which is quite a big number although not all these people had fake national identification numbers; some simply misspelt their names," Muganga said. "Those whose numbers have not been verified, as long as their NINs are genuine, they should try until their SIM cards have been validated."

Muganga added that even after the expiry of the UCC deadline, NIRA will continue validating SIM cards, registering new people and issuing national identity cards.

"We will not end validating data as long as telecom companies continue sending us information; if they stop, we will also stop," Muganga said.

Court rejects application

Earlier, High court sitting in Kampala had dismissed an application seeking interim orders halting the switching off of unregistered SIM cards. Rights Trumpets Limited, a non-profit organization, and Norman Tumuhimbise of the activist group Jobless Brotherhood, had run to court seeking a temporary injunction restraining UCC and telecommunications service providers from enforcing the former's directive to update all SIM cards using national identity cards or risk having them de-activated.

Appearing before Justice Steven Musota, UCC's lawyers, Edwin Karugire and Osama Ssebuufu, told court that the application had been overtaken by events as it was talking about seven days, which had already been extended to 30 by the government from April 20 to May 19.

Karugire argued that in the absence of a fresh application challenging the new deadline, court couldn't entertain the matter. Eron Kiiza, the applicants' lawyer, agreed with Karugire, prompting Justice Musota to dismiss the case with each party meeting its own costs.

Outside court, Ssebuufu told journalists that dismissing the case was the right thing to do.

"We filed an affidavit telling court that the case has been overtaken by events insofar as it is based on the unreasonableness of the directive to register SIM cards within seven days," Ssebuufu said.

The main case in which the activists are challenging UCC's directive has been fixed for June 8. Energized by the ruling, the head of UCC's legal affairs, Abdulsalam Waiswa, said all SIM cards that will not have been verified by midnight on Friday shall be switched off.

"Now that court has dismissed the application for an injunction to stop the process, this has validated the directive UCC issued. So, we advise everybody who has not submitted their NIN numbers to go to their telecommunication service providers to ensure that their lines are validated because if not, tomorrow [Friday]at midnight your lines will be switched off," Waiswa said.

Waiswa, speaking before Parliament intervened, added that the one-month extension offered everyone concerned ample time to obtain a National Identification number and validate his/her SIM card.

He disclosed that according to preliminary records obtained from telecommunications operators, as of Monday this week 18.2 million SIM cards had been validated.

However, according to NIRA's Muganga, while telecommunication companies have submitted 18 million SIM cards for validation, the actual number of those validated is only 15 million.

"We have issued around 15 million ID cards; so, if they have said 18 million, may be there are people who have multiple SIM cards," Muganga said.

According to UCC records, Uganda has got 22.8 million SIM cards, and many subscribers have got multiple SIM cards.

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