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Government suspends Sim card registration suspension

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The Government has reversed its decision to suspend the registration of Sim cards for mobile phone users in the country, just two weeks after announcing the suspension.

Information Minister, Nicholas Dausi, Wednesday announced in Parliament that the suspension has been lifted with immediate effect following consultations with relevant stakeholders including the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (Macra).

At the time of the suspension, Dausi said the government had taken into consideration concerns raised by Malawians that there had not been enough awareness on the exercise, among other reasons.

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However, some stakeholders, including civil society organisations, accused the government of making the decision abruptly when there were other means of addressing the concerns such as extending the registration period.

Dausi said Macra has been advised to extend the registration period beyond the initial deadline of March 31 2018 and that the new deadline will be announced in due course.

He added that mobile phone service providers have undertaken to make the registration exercise more convenient to the public by, among other things, widely informing the public about the places and times where the registration is taking place.

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“[They will also be] recruiting appropriate numbers of agents and buy handsets for them to facilitate the registration exercise even in remote areas and allow the physically challenged, including the elderly who cannot register by themselves, to do so through the particulars of their next of kin or a proven third party,” Dausi said.

He added that people who have not received their National Identity Cards will be allowed to use the voter registration cards, passports and drivers’ licences for a period not exceeding December 31 this year.

The registration of the Sim cards is provided for in the Communications Act which Parliament passed in July 2016.

The Act was put in place so that there is a piece of legislation which responds to changes in the communications sector which are said to have rendered the old Communications Act irrelevant.

Section 92 of the Act states: “A person who uses a generic number or owns or intends to use a Sim card for voice telephony services shall register that generic number of Sim card with any electronic communications licensee or with the distributor, agent or dealer of the electronic communications licensee, authorised to provide or sell generic numbers or Sim cards.”

After the government’s announcement of the suspension, some commentators accused it of lacking seriousness on issues of national interest.

Civil Society Taskforce on Sim Card Registration Chairperson, Undule Mwakasungula, said the exercise should have continued while the government worked on civic education and other concerns.

Social and political commentator, Humphrey Mvula, also lashed out at the government, observing that its decision to rescind decisions it had earlier made showed it does not engage in enough consultations.

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