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Digital surveillance car number plates to be rolled out in March

Government and Russian company, M/s Joint Stock Company Global Security, plan to roll out the controversial digital surveillance car number plates from March, this publication can reveal.

The first phase of the project dubbed the Intelligent Transport Management System (ITMS)—digital monitoring and tracking system of motor vehicles and motorcycles in the country—will cover all government vehicles. 

The second phase will involve making beacon-equipped plates to cover all new vehicles on the road. 

Expectations

This is expected to start on July 1 with new cars coming into the country, before being rolled out to cars already on the road.

Mr Bageya Waiswa, the Works Ministry permanent secretary has written to the two companies currently manufacturing car plates—GM Tumpeco and Arnold Brooklyn and Company Ltd—notifying them of termination of their contracts within the next six months.

“The production and issuance of the new vehicle registration plates is scheduled to commence on July 1st, 2023,” Mr Waiswa wrote in two separate correspondences dated December 29,  2022, addressed to the two companies.

He further detailed that, under the ITMS project, the Russian firm will manufacture and fit all cars with the plates embedded with beacons “so as to identify and trace them in real time—especially when investigating crime committed by rogue elements.”

Replacement 

The third phase of the project, Mr Waiswa told this newspaper yesterday, will cover new digital plates to replace all ordinary plates currently on the road.

The Works ministry has already issued new registration plate regulations that guide for an inbuilt sensor embedded in a registration plate to be synchronised with an electronic device installed in the motor vehicle. 

The device is capable of indicating real-time location of the motor vehicle and detecting unauthorised removal.

The regulations exempt tracking chips from vehicles belonging to diplomatic missions, UN agencies, the presidential motorcade or any other special purpose vehicle as the Works minister may prescribe.

Integrity issues

Since mid-2021 when the government, through the ministries of Security and the Presidency, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with M/s Joint Stock Company Global Security, questions have incessantly popped up about the integrity of the project intended to fight high-profile crime.

Privacy experts have warned that the car-tracking system is not employed anywhere in countries that consider themselves democratic but Mr Waiswa yesterday emphasised that they have done “enough due-diligence.”

“Whether it has been done elsewhere or not, we are doing something new here. You see things have changed nowadays that one doesn’t necessarily need to jump on the plane to do benchmarking; you can do it on your desktop,” Mr Waiswa said by telephone.

Backstory

President Museveni first hinted at mounting tracking chips on all boda bodas and vehicles during his address to Parliament on insecurity in the country in June 2018. 

This was in the wake of the assassination of Arua Municipality MP, Ibrahim Abiriga who was shot dead while driving in his car. 

The assailants, who trailed him on motorcycles, remain at large.

The move was part of the President’s 12-point plan, including fingerprinting all guns and installation of CCTVs on streets, to curb high-profile crimes in the country.

The first batch of cameras were installed in June 2019. 

In the wake of the attempted assassination of the former Chief of Defence Forces Gen Katumba Wamala in June 2021, President Museveni directed the Security ministry to fast-track the vehicle tracking deal.

Early results are mixed 

The CCTVs that cost $126 million (Shs472 billion) are yet to be used effectively to curb crime, which—according to police’s crime reports of the last three years—has been rising, even after their installation. 

The police reports document that the cameras have been used to crack down on especially phone thefts, kidnaps, counterfeiting, car thefts, a handful of murders, and robberies, among others.

The 2021 police report also details that the cameras were useful during the last general election, particularly at capturing rioters destroying property, burning tyres on roads and looting.

At least 54 people were shot dead in November 2020 during the campaigns when disturbances broke out in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts. 

Official reports indicate that the majority of those shot dead by security agencies were not involved in any criminal activity but the reports are silent on whether the CCTV cameras captured the errant security personnel who shot and killed them.

Mysterious entity

M/s Joint Stock Company Global Security first appeared on the horizon for the car-tracking tender under the project dubbed smart tracking system in intelligence circles in June 2018. Their local interests were represented by a prominent local lobbyist.

During hearing of a case filed by a local NGO—Legal Brains Trust—challenging the legality of fitting digital chips in private vehicles as an affront to the right to privacy, the Office of the President permanent secretary Yunus Kakande told court that President Museveni handpicked the company.

In his affidavit dated August 6, 2021, filed as response to the suit filed by Legal Brains Trust, Mr Kakande also revealed that in December 2018 a technical committee comprising of, among others, officials from the UPDF’s National Enterprise Corporation, and the Ministry of Security conducted due diligence on the company and “concluded that it had capacity to undertake the project.”

Russian firm hired

Subsequently, on March 22, 2019, the government and the Russian firm signed an MoU. 

This culminated into the agreement signed July 23, 2021, providing for the ITMS—digital monitoring and tracking system of motor vehicles and motorcycles in the country “through real time control and monitoring centre.”

Joint Stock Company Global Security, which has a limited digital footprint to show its prior related experience, was in mid-2021 thrust in the spotlight after it emerged that the company was facing multiple bankruptcy suits back in Moscow.

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the government’s legal advisor, in July 2021 challenged journalists to produce the evidence of bankruptcy against the company, adding that the government is ready for any legal implications.

The deal

July 23, 2021—The permanent secretaries of the Works and Transport as well as Presidency ministries sign an MoU with Joint Stock Company Global Security executives for a 10-year deal. 

The deal involves installing tracking GPS chips in all motor vehicles on Ugandan roads, which will require re-registration of all vehicles.

There have been concerns about the hired company. 

But Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the government’s legal advisor, in July 2021 challenged journalists to produce the evidence of bankruptcy against the company, adding that the government is ready for any legal implications.

Source: Daily Monitor

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