Census tablets to be used for 2026 voter registration

A polling assistant verifies a voter’s bio data during the Kyadondo East by-election in Wakiso District on June 28, 2017. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • The more than 120, 000 portable personal computers are supplied by a company based in the Netherlands.   

The tablet computers to be used by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (Ubos) for next month’s population census will also be deployed for voter registration for the 2026 General Election.

The more than 120, 000 portable personal computers with a touchscreen interface, with some already shipped into the country ahead of the National Population and Housing Census, are supplied by Laxton Group Ltd, based in

The Hague, Netherlands, but with a production plant in China.

The 10-day census runs from May 9 to 19 while the voter registration and verification by the Electoral Commission (EC) commences next year ahead of the polls in early 2026.

After the census, the gadgets will then be passed onto the National Identification and Registration Authority (Nira) for the National Identity Card registration exercise at the various parishes across the country.

Sources familiar with the matter said Ubos, the EC, and Nira, the ministries of Finance, ICT, and Security, and the National Information Technology Authority (Nita), which are mandated to coordinate government IT-services, held extensive engagements on cross-sharing of the equipment before the procurement of the tablets that cost Shs132b.

The sources said the Cabinet sitting on September 12, 2022, cleared the 2024 census exercise at a cost of Shs339b, and the purchase of the tablets to be shared through the United Nations Systems under Third Party Procurement (TPP) arrangement to save costs.

TPP is an arrangement through the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) provided to external partners, including governments and NGOs, to obtain competitive prices.

The sources also revealed that there was a “divergence in opinions” between Nira and Ubos on specifications. Nira, the sources said, impelled Ubos to input Nira’s—as the last end user—views on specifications to avoid rendering the equipment “useless” at the tail end.

On account of deployment in three intensive national activities, namely the census, General Election, and National ID registration at parish levels, Ministry of Finance Permanent Secretary Ramathan Ggoobi, in a February 20, 2023 letter, implored Ubos to ensure the tablets and their accessories conform to specifications by both EC and Nira.

However, a May 2023 Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) inquiry into the matter concluded that whereas EC had agreed to the specifications, Nira remained discontented.

Nira indicated that the rugged tablets did not fulfill the criteria to carry out mass enrolment and renewal of identity cards. The agency suggested that the gadgets should, among others, have an application that can run on the device; should be restricted to government function to limit abuse; and should have subscriber identity module (SIM) card slots connected via a point-to-point (p2p) network—a private data connection to two or more locations exclusively for private data services.

“PPDA was not provided with evidence to confirm that Nira’s concerns were addressed by Ubos as directed by the PSST, implying the tablets would not be fit for use by Nira, hence failing to achieve the intended purpose,” PPDA noted.

Case not so closed
NITA declined to comment on the matter. However, sources in the Ministry of ICT told Daily Monitor that the matter was “harmonised” during several meetings.

 “Sometimes the technical people cling to their differences, but at least at the strategic level there was harmonisation,” a senior official said at the weekend. “From what I recall, the Cabinet cleared that the tablets will be shared by Ubos, the EC, and Nira, so all parties were brought on board,” the official added.

The Ubos executive director, Dr Chris Mukiza, told this newspaper that Nira is best suited to comment on the matter whether they were satisfied or not. “Let me concentrate on my census,”  he said.

The NIRA executive director, Ms Rosemary Kisembo, said: “There was some harmonisation, but please contact the Ministry of ICT, they can best answer.”

PPDA underlined irregularities in the conduct of market price assessment during the procurement of the tablets for the census and related materials. PPDA further directed that Ubos submit the revised technical specifications for the tablets. It remains unclear whether these were undertaken.

Laxtop Group Ltd, according to documents, offered the lowest price of $570 (Shs2.153m) for each tablet exclusive of shipping cost per unit.

The procurement of the gadgets commenced in November 2022, with the Ubos director for digital solutions, Mr James Kizza, requesting the body’s accounting officer, Ms Alikiza Kaudha Lubega, for approval to undertake market price assessment of manufacturers of the tablets.

On January 4, 2023, Nita-U gave a no-objection to Ms Lubega’s request for approval to for approval of the specifications to Nita-U for ordinary tablets, plain power banks, and solar power banks.

On January 25, 2023,  EC also responded to Ubos’  request for input on the specifications of the tablets. Nira management raised concerns over specifications during a meeting on January 11. 

On January 23, 2023, Dr Mukiza wrote to Mr Ggoobi, requesting that the Finance ministry engage Laxton Group to provide the necessary guarantees for the procurement of 40,000 rugged tablets at an estimated cost of Shs83b.  

Mr Ggoobi authorised Ubos on February 10 to proceed with Laxtop Group, and specifically to ensure that procurement laws are adhered to.

Early this month on April 4, Dr Mukiza while appearing before the parliamentary Finance Committee said the tablets had attracted a tax burden of Shs24b that the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) wants cleared.

He said: “The finance minister deferred the taxes on the importation of census tablets to the next financial year. Now, for each consignment that comes, we have to write to customs for a provisional release, but they have given us up to September 2024, so they may come and close the Statistics House if nothing happens.” Dr Mukiza said.

In response, the state minister for Finance, Mr Amos Lugoloobi, allayed the fears, saying the ministry will address the matter.