The ICT committee that is chaired by Hon. Nyaketcho Annet sat today 22nd August 2017 to discuss the deadline for SIM Registration that is due on 30th of this month.
The committee sought to understand the position of all the stakeholders and thus made it a joint Parliamentary committee meeting with the committee on Internal Affairs, Committee on Equal Opportunities and Security Committees.
The committees were meeting the Ministry of ICT, Minister of Security, National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA) and National Information Technology Authority (NITA).
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance Mr. Waiswa Bagiire who was standing in for the Hon. Frank Tumwebaze the Minister of ICT made the first presentation directing the committee members to a disclaimer that he was called out of leave and therefore had no detailed presentation.
He informed the meeting that the registration process started in 2013 under the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010 that entailed all telecommunication service providers to register all the details of anyone they issue a SIM card to. He also informed the meeting that the responsibility for the registration process falls under the Ministry of Security and not ICT and that all they do is facilitate the process. The Permanent Secretary also highlighted the rolr of NIRA which is tasked to do the verification and validation process.
Mr. Bagiire said that the initial compliance percentage as regards the registration process was 70% and the second one totaled to 92% and the current one that adds up to 97%.
He addressed the meeting with a few stats that vouch for his claim. MTN which recorded over 16M subscribers who sent in their NINs had over 15M verified by NIRA. Airtel which is the second largest operator had over 11M subscribers with 9M verified, 8.6M found in the NIRA data base and 900k not found. Africell had 3M subscribers who sent in their NINs, 2M were verified and 1.4M of those was found in the data base.
The chairperson of the committee then requested that he gives the committee a published copy of those figures which he was reading from his phone; which he did later, after the meeting. The few challenges identified as those that are stalling the process included, subscribers typing in wrong NINs, malpractices in the system like SIM-boxing that not only makes their work hard but also denies the country revenue (SIM boxing involves routing international calls through the VoIP connection and connect the call as local traffic, allowing the box’s operator to bypass international rates and often undercut prices charged by local mobile network operators )
Mr. Bagiire was also concerned that these telecommunication service providers adhere to the deadlines in other countries where they operate yet they deliberately flout the deadlines in Uganda.
The Ministry of ICT asked that the deadline be maintained because pushing it further makes them lose their credibility and makes them look incompetent, citing that the 4 month extension that is due to expire at the end of this month was long enough for people to have registered.
Hon. Akora Maxwell expressed disappointment over the lack of synergy between the institutions that are supposed to oversee the registration process. He particularly focused on the gap that’s between the Ministry of ICT and the telecommunication operators.
He also requested for an explanation as to what will happen to children who have phones but are under the age of 16 and have to wait until January to receive their National IDs plus those people that lost their National IDs and have to wait for up to 3 months before they can get their IDs replaced. He urged the stakeholders to understand the substantial effect the cutting off unregistered SIM-cards could have not just on our economy but also the social position and advised that a common position that’s more practical be adopted.
There was disagreement among the committee members on the way forward on the sim registration.
Hon Peter Sematimba, was of the considered opinion that the security of the nation is paramount and more important than the inconvenience of the registration process. He added that continued extension of the deadline poses a security threat. The price of insecurity is much greater than the inconvenience of the whole process, he added.
Hon Maxwell Akora on the other hand suggested that the stakeholders including telecom companies, NIRA, Min of ICT should meet and agree on a practical deadline they can all adhere to.
However, Hon Tinkasiimire was quick to remind Hon Sematimba that so many people have not had their sim cards registered under no fault of their own, but the failure of government to issue them their IDs. He also asked the minister of security to provide the assurance that people’s personal details will not be used by others to commit crimes. He cited banks where individuals’ IDs are photocopied can the National ID numbers can be used to register sim cards.
The Minister of Security Gen. Henry Tumukunde told the members that whereas he acknowledged the shortfalls and mishaps in the registration process, these should not derail the process altogether. He agreed with Hon Sematimba’s view that security should prioritized over personal inconveniences. He noted that we should strive to improve the process, but that can only happen if we actually start and maintain the registration exercise.
Members also questioned the competence of NIRA, which has failed in many cases to provide people with their IDs. The ICT committee chairperson informed members that NIRA will appear before the committee on Thursday 24th to respond, together with the Minister of ICT and Ministry of Internal Affairs.