I am still struggling to make sense of the decision by the National Communications Authority to extend the deadline for the SIM card registration by 90 days.
The authority claims the extension is a window for those who didn’t bother to have their numbers registered within the 18-month duration of the exercise to do the responsible thing. Secondly, the NCA says, it is also an opportunity for those who registered with improper IDs to regularise their records.
The latter reason makes perfect sense but the former sounds more like hogwash to me. If the phone subscriber didn’t see wisdom in having his SIM registered in 18 months and suffered no sanctions for it, why should he attach any more importance to it within 90 extra days?
One might argue that the extension is a very gracious gesture from the NCA. But by taking this very Ghanaian step, NCA has also played into the hands of those who questioned the rationale of the SIM card registration exercise from the very beginning, challenging its legal basis and suggesting that the NCA was up to no good.
The extension is also yet another demonstration of our determination as a nation to postpone our progress at the least opportunity; we are very reluctant to get things done right the first time.
Through all of this, those who are claiming ‘victory’ for getting the NCA to refrain from biting after barking for the greater part of two years, raise two interesting issues, which appear to cancel each other out.
First, they claim that the NCA doesn’t have the legal mandate to de-activate phone lines and that the extension provides an opportunity for the authority to get the necessary legal backing. This is a very arguable point and the only way for us to have settled it was for someone to sue the NCA. That didn’t happen and the NCA has not given any indication as to whether or not it intends to go to parliament to get some law passed to settle the matter once and for all. Hopefully, that can be done within the next 90 days or so.
If the NCA does get the legal issues cleared – if there are any issues to be cleared – the second argument raised by those applauding the extension kicks in. IMANI, which has been breathing down the NCA’s neck all this while, argues that the fact that we don’t have a good national ID card system means that a good number of Ghanaians cannot register their SIM cards. They ask for example: “How do you expect a boy under 18, without a passport who is neither entitled to a voter’s ID nor a driving licence to get an ID to register?”
To this, the NCA has said that a boy like this should simply ask any mature relative or friend of his to register the SIM with his/her ID – passport, driver’s licence or passport.
But IMANI says this is not good enough. And that makes me wonder if the NCA will ever win in this tussle – even if it gets the so-called legal backing for this exercise. At the end of the day someone is going to argue that until there is an efficient national ID system this whole exercise is pointless and should be shelved.
It seems the NCA can never win and by failing to take the decisive action it had warned that it would take, the authority has shot itself in the foot. What I can tell the NCA is that after the 90-day extension, there would still be millions of mobile phone subscribers who either registered with irregular IDs or just simply didn’t give a damn whether their SIM cards are registered or not. If the NCA and IMANI care much more about these people than those of us who have registered, the best that can be done for them, I suggest, is for the deadline to be extended by 90 years. Even then, there will be issues.