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New SIM registration exercise begins October 1 with GhanaCard

Ghanaians would have to register their SIM cards with the National Identification Authority (NIA) mandated cards (GhanaCards) compulsorily by October 1.

This announcement was made by the Minister of Communications and Digitalisation, Ursula Owusu-Ekuful, in a press briefing on Sunday, September 5.

According to the minister, the compulsory registration of SIMs with GhanaCards will be open to Ghanaians from the age of 15. Failure to register one’s card with the appropriate ID would result in losing one’s number by the end of March 2022.

Below is the speech in full delivered by Ursula Owusu-Ekuful.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the importance of digitalisation in our rapidly growing society cannot be overemphasized. The pivotal nature of this sector was brought to the fore with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as indeed ICT played and continues to play an enormous role in ensuring continuity of work and business processes in every sector of the economy. Many institutions today are using digital platforms that make it easy to work from home and other locations to assist in promoting safety protocols and limit the spread of the virus.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the speech delivered by the President on 6th March 2018, he said and I quote, “at its core, the poverty gap is a technology gap. The mastery of technology is what, at the end of the day, separates developed countries from developing ones, or rich countries from poor countries. This is a gap we have to bridge.” We will work assiduously with all MMDAs in a concerted manner to attain this objective.

The expanded mandate of the MoCD to include digitalisation will ensure that the Government’s multi-sectoral Digital Agenda is properly coordinated by this Ministry. This requires the integration and possible expansion of existing digital infrastructure, applications and services to prevent duplication, fragmentation, and waste of scarce resources. This sector holds the key to the transformation of our entire economy through technology and we intend to lead efforts to achieve that.

My presentation this afternoon will focus on SIM Registration, device registration through the Central Equipment Identity Registry (CEIR) and Girls in ICT (GIICT). I’ll also touch briefly on the impending designation of Critical National Information Infrastructure as mandated by the Cybersecurity Act 2020.

SIM REGISTRATION

The Ministry of Communications and Digitalisation will launch the National SIM Card Registration Exercise across the country next month.

The Subscriber Identity Module Registration Regulations, 2011, L.I 2006 mandates network operators or service providers to activate a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) only after the subscriber registers the SIM as directed by the NCA. Every subscriber is required to provide the name and residential or occupational address, date of birth, in the case of an individual; and Certificate of Incorporation, in the case of a body corporate; or registration, in the case of a partnership or an unincorporated body of persons; and an identification document. Only the National Identity Card (Ghana Card) issued to an individual shall be used for registration of SIM cards of Citizens, Foreign Residents and Foreigners staying in Ghana for more than 90 days. In the case of foreigners staying in Ghana for less than 90 days, a valid passport or other travel document is required.

This isn’t the first attempt to register sims but all the previous efforts failed because of the lack of a verifiable secure identification document. The above situation also led to the influx of pre-registered SIM Cards in the system hence our inability to track and trace people who commit crimes with the SIM cards. The prevalence of fake IDs and a non-existent system of verifying the IDs, led to unscrupulous individuals procuring hundreds of SIM Cards for SIM Boxing leading to the loss of revenue for the state. The Ghana card provides the basis for a successful sim registration exercise this time.

Benefits of Registration

SIM registration, when undertaken correctly as we intend to do, will reduce or eliminate fraudulent and criminal activities, help authorities ascertain the accurate number of valid and accurate SIMs on the networks, enable operators to build better demographics of their customer base and help them develop products and services to suit the various groupings. The Regulator, NCA, will also get more accurate data to regulate the industry even better.

SIM Registration will enhance economic growth as more confidence is built in the telecommunications sector and people utilize secure devices to access E-Government services and other private mobile based digital solutions. It will minimize mobile money fraud and support financial inclusion across the vulnerable sectors.

Modalities for SIM Registration

All new subscribers will have to produce their Ghana card to acquire a new SIM card. For Businesses to register sims in bulk, the Operators will be required to verify the Business Registration documents with the Registrar General’s Department and verify the identity of the Shareholder or the Director for Limited Liability companies and Public Institutions respectively.

Existing subscribers will register their SIMS via USSD and a sim registration App.

The verification of all subscribers and businesses will be against the databases of the National Identification Authority and the Registrar General’s Department where necessary. Indeed, for the Businesses, in addition to verifying from the Registrar General’s Department that that Business is valid, a shareholder or director of the organisation will have to personally be linked to the registration of the SIMs.

Individuals can register a total number of 10 SIM Cards across all networks and Foreigners will have a limit of 3 SIM Cards across all networks. Let me caution here, that people should not think that they can hide behind Businesses and register as many SIM Cards as they want. All SIM Cards registered to a Business will be linked to a Shareholder or Director of the Business and if a Business SIM Card is found to have been engaged in a fraudulent activity, the Shareholder or Director will be held liable.

The NCA will develop mechanisms to enable subscribers (individual and Businesses) check and verify all SIM Cards which have been registered in their names at all times.

Foreigners visiting Ghana can acquire a SIM Card using their Passports or Travel Card but they can only use the SIM Card for 30 days after which it will be deactivated. Foreigners intending to use a SIM Card for more than 30 days will have to obtain the Non-Citizen Ghana Card to do so. The NCA has made it mandatory for the Operators to verify Passports and Travel Cards against an international database before registering and activating a SIM Card for Foreigners. Special arrangements will be made for diplomatic personnel living and working in Ghana.

One of the interesting things we are also doing is to enforce Regulation 6 of the SIM Regulations which states that:

1) “A network operator or service provider that provides international roaming service in the country to a subscriber from another country shall enter into an agreement with the network operator or service provider of that subscriber”.

2) “The agreement shall provide for the particulars of the subscriber in the records of the network operator or service provider during the period that the subscriber uses the Subscriber Identity Module in the country”.

We believe that enforcing this will address the potential issue of would be fraudsters and criminals using SIM Cards from other countries to roam on Ghanaian networks to engage in crime.

The minimum age for registration has been set at 15 years, taking into consideration the increased use of communications services since the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic and to facilitate E-education.

For the very first time in Ghana, there will be a SIM Register just like countries like Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, which will serve as a database giving comprehensive statistics regarding number of subscribers in Ghana and providing a resource for tracking fraudsters and criminals.

Barring any unforeseen eventualities, SIM Registration will begin on 1st October, 2021 for a six (6) month period and end on 31st March, 2022. Any sim which is not registered at the end of this exercise will be blocked.

The NIA is opening Regional and District Offices to enable Ghanaians who have not registered for their Ghana Card to be able to do so and we encourage all Ghanaians and Foreigners resident in Ghana to ensure that they have their Ghana Cards and Non-Citizen Ghana Card ready. In addition, those who have registered but have not picked up their Ghana Cards should be able to do so from the various NIA offices.

Data Security and Protection

Registration details will be accessed upon receipt of a court order to aid law enforcement agencies to prevent, detect, investigate, and prosecute fraud and other criminal activities and to aid emergency and National Security matters such as terrorist attack, national disasters and public health emergency.

The data will be stored in a Central SIM Registry at the National Information Technology Agency with very restricted access to the database. There will be strict compliance with the Data Protection Act 2012 (Act 843). Furthermore, the Data Protection Commission is a major stakeholder in this exercise.

Central Equipment Identity Register (CEIR)

Government will also be implementing handset and equipment registration alongside the SIM registration and set up the CEIR as stated in the Executive Instrument 63.

The Central Equipment Identity Register connects to MNOs’ systems in a non-intrusive manner in order to aggregate all IMEIs coming from all the local operators in a single national IMEI database.

Mobile device manufacturers estimate that about 5 million mobile devices are imported into the country annually but the necessary customs duties and taxes are paid on only 60 % of these imports. Data from Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), confirms that 40 per cent of these mobile devices enter the Ghanaian market illegally, without Government benefiting from the expected tax revenue. Ghana has about 34 million mobile subscribers with a mobile penetration rate exceeding 119% and there is a huge market for mobile devices.

The unregulated market in Ghana has resulted in a thriving device black market with sales of smuggled mobile devices, a high incidence of device theft and cloning device identifications. Smuggled devices are sold through visible retail sites, unofficial retail outlets and online websites.

The impact of the smuggling and trade of counterfeit mobile devices include the following:

1. Loss of revenue to government because these products enter the market through unapproved routes and avoid the payment of the necessary duties and taxes.

2. Registered businesses have to battle unfair competition from smuggled devices which are cheaper and threaten the survival of legitimate businesses.

3. Health Implications due to products not designed to meet regulatory requirements on the market resulting in high RF exposure which may cause cancer and other diseases and dangerous battery explosion.

4. Poor hardware & software design leading to higher call drops, which exhaust the network resources resulting in poor service quality and customer experience.

5. Influx of stolen phones shipped from other countries by criminal syndicates

6. Creates an incentive for the theft and resale of devices, increasing the crime rate and heightening the sense of insecurity among citizens. These stolen devices can also be used to commit other crimes.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CENTRAL EQUIPMENT IDENTITY REGISTRY

To address the challenge of the smuggling and trade in counterfeit, stolen and substandard mobile devices, and increase the potential for enhanced revenues, technology has been developed to ensure that these devices only function when they enter the country through legal means. A Central Equipment Identity Registry (CEIR) records all devices in the country and reduces the influx of smuggled and counterfeit mobile devices. Each operator has an Equipment Identity Registry (EIR) which is a database that contains all the IMEI numbers of the handsets of all the subscribers on a particular cellular network. The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a unique identity code, which is given to all Global System for Mobile (GSM) devices. When the mobile device is connected to a particular network, the MSC requests the IMEI of that mobile device and then it is sent to the EIR for further authorization process.

CEIR is a central EIR database which integrates IMEI numbers of EIR of all the networks. As the information is stored in the CEIR, it will be periodically updated in the EIR of all the networks.

The Ghana CEIR will be connected to the global database (GSMA database) to access the IMEI of approved and blacklisted devices. This will ensure that mobile devices entering the country are properly authenticated. It will also be connected to the databases of all mobile network operators in Ghana, to synchronize and update data of blacklisted and whitelisted devices in Ghana. This will ensure that only approved mobile devices recognized by the CEIR would function in Ghana. It will generate and store a list of all blacklisted and whitelisted devices in our own repository.

The importation of mobile devices will require that the IMEI of the devices are captured on the CEIR database during declaration. The captured information will synchronize with the GSMA database and confirm the standard and ownership status of the device. Compliance to customs duty payment will be ensured during the declaration process.

Government’s Commitment

The government has initiated good digitalisation initiatives and innovations in Ghana and we are expanding the focus beyond access by implementing programs and plans that focus on the widespread secure adoption and usage of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). It is important to encourage the usage of digital applications by consumers, businesses, and public institutions and we are working to establish and maintain secured digital platforms, applications and systems in Ghana. Government believes that having a SIM database and CEIR with integrity is a key step towards enhancing our digitalisation.

All subscribers are encouraged to begin getting their national IDs in order to have a smooth and easy registration process.

Consumers and the general public must be empowered with knowledge and insights to help them understand the need for re-registration, the process and the requirement for registration. As partners in the industry, we invite all media houses to help achieve this objective and we count on your support. A detailed publicity exercise will be conducted on these issues in the coming days and we entreat the media to partner government to make this registration exercise a success for our collective good.

Girls-in-ICT Project

The Ministry continues to empower the youth with the digital skills they urgently need to thrive in the new world of work as traditional jobs are gradually being lost to the opportunities created by these technologies. Under the Girls-in-ICT project, 584 girls from 8 Districts in the Oti Region were trained on basic computer skills, coding and HTML in 2020. In 2021, we have projected to train 3,000 girls in three regions namely, Western North, North East and Savannah Regions.

Nine Districts in Western North and Prestea Huni Valley have been selected to present 1000 girls to be trained in Basic Computer Skills, Fundamentals of Programming, Scratch and HTML. The Ministry has completed the training of the first batch of 500 girls. The training of the 2nd batch of 500 girls will commence tomorrow, Monday, 6th September to Saturday, 11th September 2021. The Mentorship and Climax of the event will be held on Wednesday, 15th September 2021 at Sefwi Wiawso under the global theme “Connected Girls, Creating Brighter Futures”.

I wish to state that Government has been implementing this project with the able support of GIFEC, NCA, KACE and the various Regional Coordinating Councils. MTN has also made a generous donation of GHc 10million to support this initiative for the next 3years. This is a major support from corporate Ghana and we wish to encourage other corporate entities and individuals to support the course of bridging the digital gender gap in ICT. Savannah Region will be the next destination for the Girls-in-ICT initiative after the Western North, to ensure that the region is impacted by these activities. It is our hope that much enthusiasm will be generated amongst our girls for ICT education and careers.

We would be introducing other models with the support of Huawei Technologies (Ghana) SA Limited for Tertiary students of Ghana and 4 Senior High Schools through their SEED programme.

The purpose of this initiative is to encourage and empower girls and young women to consider studies and careers in the growing field of ICTs, enabling both girls and technology companies to reap the benefits of greater female participation in the ICT sector.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for your attention.

September 5, 2021

 

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