Govt to fix spy chips on all vehicles, bikes

Government says the installation is to enable the state to monitor movements and respond with speed in case of an insecurity incident PHOTO/COMBO

What you need to know:

  • Security: Government has given the deal to an Eurasian firm it named as Global Systems LLC, which will install tracking devices in all public and private vehicles, motorcycles and water vessels in the country.

The government has handpicked a Eurasian firm named Global Systems LLC to install tracking devices in all public and private vehicles, motorcycles and water vessels in the country.

Maj Gen (rtd) Jim Muhwezi, the new Security minister, yesterday confirmed that they sealed the 10-year deal through classified/restricted procurement “window”.

Categorising the build-operate-transfer contract as classified means the deal cannot be publicly scrutinised and falls under security purview.  

“The Eurasian firm will run it for like 10 years. We are still negotiating. The firm had wanted 15 years, but we are saying 15 years are very many. This company will build it, operate it for the period of 10 years and will transfer it to the government,” the former spymaster said.

Under the arrangement, whose nitty-gritty is pending conclusion, the company in a process to be superintended by the government will attach spy chips in all vehicles, motorcycle and barges for which owners will pay Shs20,000 annually.

The purpose of the installation, according to Gen Muhwezi, is to enable state monitor the movements and respond with speed in case of an insecurity incident.

President Museveni first broached the idea of installing tracking devices on cars and bikes during his June 2018 address to Parliament on the back then of a string of assassinations of prominent politicians, Muslim clerics, and security officials.  

“We shall require every motorist and motorcyclist to have electronic number plates with an electronic signal in them,” President Museveni said in his 10-point security master plan to combat rising urban criminality.

Majority of the victims, among them the then Arua Municipality Member of Parliament Ibrahim Abiriga, former Buyende District Police Commander Muhammed Kirumira, and before them, police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi, were shot by hooded gunmen riding on motorcycles.  

After a two-year hiatus, similar hooded assailants struck on June 1 when they ambushed Works Minister Katumba Wamala, an active duty four-star UPDF general, in Kampala’s Kisaasi suburb at about 9am.

They injured the former army chief in both arms and killed his daughter Brenda Nantongo and driver Haruna Kayondo, resurrecting shock memories of such brutal previous bloodletting.

The proposed installation of digital tracking devices adds to the installation of Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras and recruitment/deployment of Local Defence Unit personnel, but not without controversy.

The president of Uganda Law Society (ULS), Ms Pheona Nabasa Wall, said the government should consider the issue of people’s privacy which is a constitutional right.

“Every Ugandan has a right to privacy and it is a constitutional right. Decisions like this should be made in a considered manner. Parliament should always be consulted on issues of the Constitution,” she said.

Ms Wall, however, said the devices can be installed on boda bodas that have been used to commit crimes for the last five years.
 “It is a good thing to embrace technology. However, there are certain systems which should be refined to work. There are already security systems that the country has not allowed to work like registration of Sim Cards, National Identity cards and cameras,”  she added.

Police officers at the scene assailants attempted to assassinate Works minister Gen Katumba Walama on Kisota Road, Kisaasi, a Kampala suburb, on June 1. PHOTO/ ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Opposition politicians and right groups have raised alarm about what they deemed an intrusive project that presents the potential for violation of privacy by the government.

“[The] government is unreasonable. Previously, it has spent a lot of money in equipping police and installing cameras. Imposing a cost on motorists to install monitors will see the majority selling their cars. This Government should give Ugandans a break and go slow on this,” Mr Patrick Amuriat, the president of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, said.

Mr Mustapha Mayambala, the chairperson of Uganda Transporter Development Agencies (UTADA), said: “We welcome the government move to install monitors in our cars, but it should give us time to come out of the lockdown. If it is very urgent, let the government incur the cost.”

Mr Hassan Kyanze, the chairperson of Namuwongo boda boda stage, said they are not against the government’s move but are only against paying a fee for the installation of the chips, which he said will cost cyclists a fortune and drive them out of business.
Mr Kyanze said wrong doers may remove the chip from the motorcycles and continue committing crimes.

In an interview yesterday, minister Muhwezi denied that the government will use the chips to get information to map its targets, including opponents, arguing that “we are saying let us put a chip in our vehicles so that you are monitored. If a crime happens, we shall be able to trace the culprit’s vehicle”.

“There has been a problem of vehicles [used to cause] insecurity. You have seen very many people who have been assassinated and suspects have been running away,” he said, although attackers in the assassinations over the past decade have always fled on motorcycles.

Besides combating gun violence, the government also bills the trackers as essential to curb theft of cars and motorcycles as well as monitor and capture speeding motorists.  “It will not only be used for security, it will be used by traffic police to see who speeded and who has knocked someone and they will be penalised so that penalty money will go to government,” Gen Muhwezi said.

Cost sharing and profits
Global Systems Company will take 70 per cent of money from penalties in the first two years, with the government pocketing 30 per cent.

In the fourth year, the two parties will share the revenue on 50:50 basis, and the government will take 70 per cent from the sixth year onwards while the contractor settles for 30 per cent.

Proponents of the project said the company will meet all initial investment costs and recoup the spend through the Shs20,000 tracker installation fees as well as penalties.  

High-placed security sources told this newspaper that the contractor has already started shipping required equipment and technology ahead of the project roll-out.

Minister Muhwezi said the contractors will work with the technical management committee that comprises members from Security, Works and Transport ministries and Kampala Capital City Authority.

“They will be mobilising their things in the country, building things in the country and importing equipment. Cargo is still moving, but we are sure [the project] will start this financial year [that begins today],” he said.

Discomfort
“Having these trackers in people’s cars causes discomfort and affects our privacy. Also the corruption in this country has broken the trust so you are afraid that somebody who gets this information the wrong way can use it to track a vehicle and commit a crime,” The President of Uganda Law Society (ULS), Ms Pheona Nabasa Wall

Possible effect
“Government is unreasonable. Previously, it has spent a lot of money in equipping police and installing cameras. Imposing a cost on motorists to install monitors will see the majority selling their cars,” The president of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Mr Patrick Amuriat

On cost
“We welcome the government move to install monitors in our cars but it should give us time to come out of the lockdown. If it is very urgent, let the government incur the cost,” Mr Mustapha Mayambala, the chairperson of Uganda Transporters Development Agency (UTRADA)

Accusation
“It is not true that boda boda cyclists are the ones who have been committing these crimes. Many private people including police officers own motorcycles so the government should consider all of these,” Mr Hassan Kyanze, the chairperson of Namuwongo boda boda Stage

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