By our reporter
Pressure is mounting on the country’s communications regulatory body and National Identification Regulatory Authority (NIRA), a body responsible for registering and keeping citizens’ data information to provide answers after it emerged that unregistered SIM cards or those illegally registered remain in circulation and are used to commit crime.
This came after it emerged that the killers of the 28-year-old Susan Magara this week had used at least 17 different SIM cards to contact her family as they solicited and negotiated their ransom!
Some of the SIM cards were reportedly unregistered and in other cases registered in names other than those of the owners, making it difficult to trace the killers or their accomplices.
While compelling people to register their SIM cards using the government-issued National ID cards, various government officials had argued that the move was a national security measure. Yet, criminals aided by mobile phones have only escalated their activities since the mandatory exercise undertaken by telecom companies in collaboration with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).
State minister for Agriculture Christopher Kibanzanga, State minister for Lands Parsis Namuganza, and Western Region Youth MP Mwine Rwamirama Mpaka are some of the recent high profile victims. Two MTN senior officials were arrested on accusations of duplicating the SIM cards.
In a statement read yesterday by her husband, Mr Daniel Lukwago, Ms Cindy Magara, an elder sister of Susan who was yet to jet into the country from Australia, said government should ensure it is hard for criminals to use phones to aide their activities.
“We ask telecom companies and UCC to do their job because some of the numbers which were used were not registered. We are asking, how come numbers which were not registered are still in use and we need answers from UCC, NIRA and the rest, yet government said this should have ended,” she said.
President Museveni in eulogy of Ms. Magara admitted there were some loopholes which he promised government would fix soon.
“The gaps we have been having in the towns have been lack of cameras and unregulated sale of mobile phone SIM cards to people without electronic identity cards. It is these gaps that we are in the process of closing. In the next few months, the cameras will be up in many areas,” he said.
“Furthermore, no mobile or fixed phone SIM cards should be given to anybody without the electronic identity card. We may require the sellers of mobile phone SIM cards to have electronic identity card readers so that we rule out the photocopying of genuine electronic ID cards,” he added.
Mr Fred Otunu, the UCC Corporate Affairs Director, explained that registration had been done in compliance with the relevant legislation but they had encountered challenges in the process.
“Some people registered many numbers using valid IDs, some used valid IDs but not belonging to them, others used lost IDs, others used IDs of deceased persons, others allowed friends to use their NINs[National Identification Numbers] to register and that in itself created a gap,” he said.
This, Mr Otunu said “was supposed to be sorted out immediately, soon after the exercise by NIRA putting in place the API (Application Programming Interface) which would allow the operators to access their data base in real time so as to verify and validate consistently the ownership of the ID”.
“The absence of that API is definitely a weakness in the chain of this registration exercise. We hope that NIRA, sooner than later [will] establishes this API so that verification of those who are using other peoples numbers will be identified,” he added.