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Seismic SIM re-registration exercise gets underway in Ghana

Ghana has begun a re-registration exercise for all SIM cards in the country that is set to run for the next six months.

At the end of that period (31 March 2022), any SIM that has not been re-registered using the National Identification Card (also known as the Ghana Card) will be disconnected.

This has been met with mixed sentiment by stakeholders, some questioning the use of only the Ghana Card whilst others laud a seemingly long overdue intervention.

Significance – a mammoth task and mixed reception

Ghana has one of the highest mobile connection rates on the continent – 41.69 million connections for a population of just over 30 million giving a connection rate of 132.8%.

In other words, re-registration is no small undertaking. But it has become necessary in the greatest part due to increasing incidences of fraud via telecoms networks including mobile money fraud, sim-box fraud and phone theft.

For example, mobile money transactions were valued at around GHS 637 billion (USD 103 billion) in the first eight months of 2021 and reported fraudulent activity has been increasing over the past four years especially.

Protecting such a sizable slice of economic activity is critical for the security of financial services and the economy at large.

The exercise is being spearheaded by Communications Minister Ursula Owusu with support from vice president and digitisation-drive champion, Mahamadu Bawumia.

It has been in the pipeline since early 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic and longer than anticipated preparations by the relevant authorities.

Re-registration finally began on 1 October and will run until 31 March 2022. The first few days of the exercise saw long queues at many offices of mobile networks as customers rushed to comply.

Mobile money agents have expressed their support for the exercise as they often have to bear the cost of fraud by reimbursing customers.

But there are detractors as well. The main criticisms relate to the use of the authorities’ decision to allow only one form of ID for registration – the ‘Ghana Card’ – fulfilment of a provision of the National Identity Register Regulations, 2012 (LI. 2111) that lists SIM card registration as one of the mandatory functions of the Ghana Card.

Other forms of identification such as a passport or voter’s ID (for which there was a fresh registration in 2020) are not acceptable.

  • One of the main issues is the slow pace of registration for the Ghana Card, according to the National Identification Authority (NIA) that is carrying out the exercise, around 15.5 million Ghanaians have been registered so far (with 13.3 million cards issued) since the process began in 2011. 
  • The opposition New Democratic Congress (NDC) in parliament is challenging the directive saying that LI. 2111 should not be interpreted as allowing for the use of the Ghana Card only, nor should it be retroactively applied to SIM cards that have already been legally registered.

In defence of the decision, officials of the NIA have said that the Ghana Card is the primary method of determining one’s identity whilst a passport is primarily for travel purposes.

The NIA Executive Secretary Prof. Ken Attafuah also said that there are questions over the validity of some passports: “during the mass registration [for the Ghana Card], there were people who went to registration centres with Ghana passports but were denied the right to register, because, upon interrogation, it was found that they were not Ghanaians.”

Whilst this number has not been quantified, we are aware locally of a number of non-Ghanaians who have been able to secure Ghanaian passports by illegal means.

Outlook – extension likely

The ability to recognise exactly who is carrying out transactions on mobile networks will undoubtedly help in the fight against fraudulent activities though further prosecutorial action must also be taken to deepen the deterrent[5].

Whilst the fight against fraud is the key factor in the re-registration exercise, revenue also plays a role.

Plans are allegedly underway for the taxation of all mobile money activity and linking the national identification card (which also serves as a tax identifier) to mobile wallets will help to streamline that process.

A reading of LI. 2111 might also give insights as to what processes may require sole use of the Ghana Card in the near future.

Listed activities include land transactions, tax payments and applications for government or public services. Already, social security and tax information is linked to the Ghana Card, even if it is not yet a requirement to access these services.

The likelihood that there will be an extension of the six-month deadline is high.

Despite the assertions of the NIA officials, there is very little probability that everyone still requiring a Ghana Card will have it within that timeframe.

Of a lesser but still noteworthy risk is a legal challenge from the NDC that will call for the process to be opened up to other forms of identification.

A similar challenge was launched during the voter’s registration exercise of 2020 where only the Ghana Card and passports were accepted (although that challenge was ultimately unsuccessful).

[1] Expected to increase slightly to reflect most recent population census figures – 30.8 million population instead of 31.4 million estimate used by the NCA to compile mobile subscription rate.

[2] Where calls are re-routed/charged to other numbers without knowledge or permission of the owner.

[3] Most cases go unreported, it is difficult to find someone who hasn’t been the victim of an at least attempted scam.

[4] The National Identity Register Regulations, L.I. 2111 (2012)

[5] Including instances where crimes are committed with the assistance of employees of telecoms companies.

Photo credit: Brett Jordan

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