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SIM card or ID? Latest changes present Ghanaians with fresh bafflement

SIM card or ID? Latest changes present Ghanaians with fresh bafflement

Ghana’s plan to enforce ID signup to keep SIM cards functioning has taken a new turn: people without a Ghana Card will now not see their phones cut off. The move may be welcome by many, but is seemingly at odds with the government’s argument that the whole scheme is to reduce fraud and crime.

Without the change, MTN Ghana alone is set to deactivate 5.7 million subscribers – a quarter of its customers – to avoid fines.

Authorities in Ghana have made exemptions to the SIM block for those who do not yet have a Ghana Card at all, the only accepted form of ID for registering a SIM card. While those who have a Ghana Card but have only carried out the first step to link the ID and SIM and not the second stage of biometric registration, along with Ghana Card holders who have done neither step, will see their SIMs blocked.

Or again, maybe not.

After a long series of threatened deadlines, the most recent, 30 November 2022 (with data services being blocked from 20 November), seems to have been enforced.

The government has launched apps and the major mobile networks have offered extended opening hours to help meet demand for biometric registration, but many millions look set to lose their phone connections. The government is keen to express reductions in fraud already noticeable.

Potential reprieve and fresh grey area

“For those who did not have their Ghana Cards and have not been able to register, those people will be exempt from any punitive measures pending the NIA [National Identification Authority] giving them their Ghana Card,” Nana Defie Badu, Director for Consumer and Corporate Affairs at the National Communications Authority told the Joy News’ AM Show on 1 December, reports Joy Online.

The director went on to say that there may also be exemptions for those who have only managed step one. “We acknowledge that there are some people who actually did the stage where they actually linked the SIM to the Ghana Card but unfortunately, after doing that their Ghana Card were either lost, damaged or through no fault of theirs, they could not proceed to do stage two.

“So, for these people, we have actually asked that they should engage the NCA by calling our toll-free number. After we do an investigation and verify the issue, these people will also be put on the exclusion list pending them getting their Ghana Cards reissued to them.”

The latest announcements see a softening since earlier statements. An 11 November updated from the Ministry of Communications stated 30 million SIM cards had gone through the first step, of being linked to a Ghana Card. As of 9 November, almost 21 million had completed Ghana Card linkage and biometric registration, 70 percent of SIMs.

The notice stated that a key reason for people struggling with the biometrics stage is that people had used other people’s Ghana Cards to link their SIMs. Vendors of SIM cards may also have registered new SIMs against the IDs of other people, without their knowledge. “Their inability to complete phase two attests to the robustness of the authentication process designed into the SIM registration architecture. It will flush out all fakes. You cannot use someone else’s Ghana Card to register your SIM.”

Nine days before the deadline and one day after data blocks should have begun, the High Court found in the NCA’s favor in a case brought by nine applicants to abandon the deadline and sanctions. The Court found that the NCA has the legal mandate to run the exercise, that the law allows the Ghana Card to be the sole applicable ID and that national security and crime prevention make the exercise imperative.

The Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, made up of the major operators AirtelTigo, MTN and Vodafone, said its members “have invested heavily in arrangements to ensure that subscribers who have their Ghana Cards and are ready to register, get registered” in a statement on 22 November.

The NCA has announced two apps to help people self-register their SIMs. Users are reporting issues on social media such as the fact they are only available on Android and that there are difficulties in paying the fee in the app.

Mobile operators to lose millions of subscribers

MTN Ghana announced that of its 22.1 subscribers, 16.4 million had fulfilled both steps, leaving 5.7 million eligible for deactivation, reports Connecting Africa. However, the impact may be less significant than the figures suggest.

“The affected subscribers represent approximately 3 to 4 percent of MTN Ghana service revenue on an annualized basis, and less than a percent of MTN Group service revenue,” Connecting Africa quotes the statement.

Those whose MTN Ghana numbers are deactivated can reactivate them by undergoing biometric registration within the next six months, reports Data Center Dynamics. It reports that Ghana makes up around 10 percent of MTN’s total revenues, behind only Nigeria and home country South Africa.

A similar scheme in Nigeria saw the MTN group lose 7.5 million subscribers, 10 percent of its customer base. It also had to pay a US$5.2 billion fine to Nigerian authorities over unregistered or incomplete registrations for SIMs in 2015. The N1.04 trillion fine was reduced to N330 million.

MTN’s share price does not seem to have taken the same hit with the news in Ghana as during previous developments in Nigeria, reports Nigeria’s New Telegraph.

1.5 million AirtelTigo customers are also in the twilight zone of having linked their SIMs to a card but not undergone biometric registration, reports Business Ghana.

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