Legal confusion as millions of Sim cards blocked

Dar es Salaam. Legal confusion has surfaced over the biometric Sim card registration exercise – with the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) coming under attack for what critics say is the regulator’s resolve to push for a procedure that is not provided for in the country’s statute books.

At the centre of the current national chaos surrounding the exercise is a TCRA guideline that only people with the National Identification Authority (Nida) identity card can have their Sim cards registered – and are, thus, spared from having their mobile telephony communication disconnected.

The bad news, however, is that not all mobile phone users have a national ID card – and this has brought Nida in the spotlight lately as long queues have been seen at its various offices across the country, with some accusing it of inefficiency and mediocrity. Not many have been successful in acquiring the document and there is a fear that thousands will have their mobile communications disconnected for their failure to have their Sim cards registered.

The biometric Sim card registration is regulated by the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (Epoca) of 2010, which does not in itself require a subscriber to have a national ID so as to have his/her Sim card registered.

If the subscriber is a Tanzanian national, section 93 of the Act stipulates, what it takes to have his/her Sim registered is to fill a particular form where, among other things, he/she will provide “identity card number or any other document” which can prove a subscriber’s identity.

Though the law does not state what exactly this ‘any other document’ is, it is known that documents such as driving licence, passport and even workers IDs can be used – and have at several occasions been used – to prove one’s identity.

But according to the guidelines issued by TCRA to oversee the exercise, a subscriber who wishes to biometrically register his/her Sim card, he/she “shall be required to present his Nida ID and fingerprint verification” for the registration.

The requirement that subscribers should have a national ID card has admittedly caused chaos across the country because many people do not have the IDs and thus threatened to have their mobile communications cut off after the expiry of the January 20 deadline.

TCRA’s spokesperson Semu Mwakanjala tried to explain the contradiction between the law and TCRA’s guidelines yesterday during an interview with a local TV station, but his explanations were far from providing definitive clarification over the confusion. Asked what TCRA would do if someone chooses to sue it over pushing for procedure unknown to the law, Mr Mwakanjala said: “The law has been amended and that only the national ID is recognised.”

While the legal wrangling was taking place in some circles, citizens in their thousands across the country kept on struggling to register their Sim cards biometrically. Long queues were spotted by The Citizen across Nida’s and telco’s offices across the country as subscribers to various mobile phone operators were struggling to save their SIM cards from being switched off.

Mussa Juma from Arusha contributed to this report