What you need to know:
- President Museveni first hinted at mounting tracking chips on all motorcycles and vehicles during his security address at Parliament in the wake of the assassination of Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga in June 2018. The move was part of the wide-ranging efforts, including fingerprinting all guns and installation of CCTVs on streets to fight high-level crime in the country. The first batch of cameras were installed in June 2019 when a phantom Russian company-Stock Company Global Security- emerged on the scene to claim the motor vehicles GPS deal, Frederic Musisi writes.
Since signing of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) between government and Joint Stock Company Global Security on July 23 to implement the smart tracking project for a period of 10 years, the deal continues to elicit suspicion and flak.
It involves mounting tracking GPS chips in all automobiles in the country at the owner’s expense. It will also require re-registration of all vehicles, motorcycles, and boats.
Joint Stock Company Global Security, which emerged as a potential investor in June 2019, is said to be facing multiple bankruptcy proceedings in Moscow. The company also has no online presence nor digital footprint to establish its prior related experience.
Security minister Jim Muhwezi, who witnessed the signing of the MoU between the permanent secretaries of the ministries of Works and Transport, and Presidency last month, has since distanced himself from the deal.
Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, the government’s legal adviser, when asked last week about the financial capacity of the Russian firm, challenged journalists to produce evidence of bankruptcy against the company.
“I approved the contract. You are telling me they are bankrupt. Give me evidence. Why don’t you believe the Attorney General of government who signed the contract? Ugandans, you are safe, we are ready for any legal implications,” he said.
Mr Kiwanuka said bankruptcy is a technical word, explaining that having no cash does not mean one is bankrupt but could be having issues with cash flow.
Mr Kiwanuka termed the deal as an emergency classified procurement despite the idea having been fronted more than two years ago.
However, if due diligence had been undertaken, there is incriminating evidence, which indicates dire financial constraints as the company struggles to dispense its debts and obligations in Russia. A search of the company’s base back home indicates that it has no public profile save for being been sued by other companies for, among others, bankruptcy, and failure to fulfil contractual obligations to provide goods.
In one case, filed in September 2020, engineering company Rus-Prom Technology LLC sued Joint Stock Company Global Security for failure to pay Shs776m.
Following victory in this case, Rus Prom Technology filed another suit to declare the company now handpicked by the government bankrupt.
The company has also been sued by Orken Alem LLP for failure to pay about Shs400m, and by Pension Fund of the Russian Federation for failure to pay Shs476,204 and Shs2.1m, respectively.
Trouble with tax authorities
Daily Monitor has also established that the company was once fined by Russian tax authorities for minor currency violation for the supply of military hardware to the armed forces of Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, and Brazil in South America.
The arms sales to the Kazakh army, court documents show, the company doesn’t have its own production line but rather acts as a conduit; the same in the case of supply of armour to the Brazilian police academy.
Highly placed sources revealed that the smart tracking project as it is known in intelligence circles, is the pet-project of the National Security Council (NSC), the Works ministry and security agencies, including Internal Security Organisation and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence to nip in the bud high-profile assassinations in the country.
A source revealed that upon arrival in 2019, the plan was to roll-out a pilot tracking-system installation of around 1,000 and 1,500 motor-vehicles out of the more than 2 million vehicles in the country by the end of 2019. The plan didn’t materialise. The plan was revived again in June this year in the wake of the attempted assassination of the former Chief of Defence Forces, Gen Katumba Wamala, where his daughter and driver died.
During the State-of-the-Nation Address at Kololo Independence Grounds a week later, President Museveni stated that the scheme should be enforced.
“The cameras I put in place did their work. As you saw the killers were running from one area to the other area,” he said.
“These wonderful camera managers think that their gadgets are only for storing videos for forensic analysis as part of the post-mortem of the operation. Yes, the cameras are for forensic but also for [alarm] while the crime is going on.”
The President added: “In addition to the cameras, our security leaders have been working on my directive of installing digital monitors on all vehicles, all bodabodas, all boats on the lake. They have taken long to implement this plan. This will make it easy to know which motorcycle, car or boat was at this point at this time.”
Mr Museveni first referenced mounting digital beacons on all automobiles as part of a 12 point-pronged approach to fight high level criminality in the country during his address on security to Parliament in June 2018 in the wake of the assassination of Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga.
There are two forms of motor vehicle tracking. These are passive tracking system, where a beacon device is installed in the vehicle store GPS location, allowed to move and when it returns to a specific location, the device is removed and data downloaded to a computer to analyse its movements.
The second is the real-time tracking system where the installed beacon transmits the vehicle’s data in real time via gadgets such as mobile phones, tablet, laptop, satellite networks to a remote computer at a data centre.
Besides the concerns about the Russian company’s financial constraints, human rights activists have questioned the camera deal, which they say infringes on the right to privacy.
Legal Brains Trust (LBT), a non-profit that advocates for the rule of law, last week filed a suit in the High Court challenging the illegality of government’s plan to mount of digital beacons or Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers on all motor vehicles, in the absence of safeguards for protecting privacy and data belonging to people with no connection to criminality or terrorism.
The organisation contends that government could as well use the digital monitors in vehicles to spy on political opponents, journalists and activists, and other powerful and well-resourced figures to engage in conduct which is detrimental to the public good or welfare or good governance.
“Having analysed the statements made to the press by [Hon] Jim Muhwezi at the launch of the impugned surveillance programme on July 23, as aired by NTV Uganda on the same day, and reported in Sunday Vision of July 25, I have come to the conclusion that the dominant purpose of the programme is to raise government revenue, as opposed to enhancement of national security without compromising the dignity and privacy of the inhabitants of Uganda,” LBT’s affidavit, filed last Thursday, reads in part.
Besides the company’s technical and financial capacity to execute a “lawful surveillance” programme, LBT’s founder, Mr Isaac Ssemakadde, told this newspaper separately that there are several bare minimum standards in the arrangement between the Russian company and the Ugandan government, which were not properly followed.
“Did the company come to us [Uganda] or did we go to them? Was there due diligence conducted on the company?” Mr Ssemakadde asked.
“The National Information Technology (NITA) Act is also clear; if you want to do business as an IT company, there are yardsticks that apply, which doesn’t seem to be in this case.”
Section five of the NITA Act on designation of registrar of providers of information technology products and services, provides that the National Information Technology executive director shall be registrar responsible for receiving and processing applications for certification of providers of information technology products or services, and registering certified providers of information technology products or services.
Mr Museveni, however, said the digital monitors will not be used to abuse people’s privacy but rather will be used to resolve high-profile crimes.
Human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo told Daily Monitor that the installation of digital trackers is without legal basis and intrusive in nature as it goes into the realms of people’s right to privacy.
“As it is now, it is only the Ministry of Security and the President, and a handful of people tasked with the project. Be that as it may, there should be a legal basis; whether they are amending the Traffic and Road Safety Act to include digital number plates then they should,” Mr Opiyo said.
He added: “To use the killing of Gen Katumba’s daughter to abuse right of all Ugandans to privacy is overeach for me. The danger is …we know far too well the abuse of systems in government. Secondly, each time there is a murder of a high-profile person, government offers solutions in the heat of the moment but which are not well thought out; the result is the mischief that was intended to be resolved is not, rather, there have been coincidental benefits. if the cameras were intended to stop high profile murders but that hasn’t worked; they are now catching phone thieves.”
Plan after plan
When Assistant Inspector of General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, alongside his bodyguard, Kenneth Erau and driver Godfrey Wambewo were killed in March 2018, President Museveni declared that he would fight such high-level criminality.
Speaking at Kawesi’s vigil, Mr Museveni cited the unresolved murders of Joan Kagezi, Maj Sulaiman Kiggundu and a number of Muslim clerics, and directed for the immediate installation of closed-circuit television cameras for surveillance in all major towns and along highways.
The $126m deal CCTV nearly turned into a still-birth as a result of graft and inflated prices. It was later cleared and the first batch of cameras were installed in Kampala in June 2019.
CCTV cameras were first installed on the streets of Kampala and Entebbe in 2007 in preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. However, they were restricted in the city centre and their efficacy was called into question after a spate of high profile murders.
Phase 1 of the CCTV project covered Kampala Metropolitan Policing Area catering for 18 divisions with 3,233 cameras installed, and phase 2 covering all municipalities, highways, major towns and all border, while phase 3 commenced in May covering other parts of the country.
The 2020 police crime report shows the cameras have been used to crack, especially phone thefts, kidnaps, counterfeiting, car thefts, a handful of murders, and robberies, among others.
The police report also details that the cameras were useful during the just concluded elections, particularly at capturing rioters destroying property, burning tyres on roads and looting.
However, eight months since the deadly November protests when security personnel killed more than 50 people in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts, a majority of whom were not protesting, no suspect has been brought to book.
Simcard registration in fight against crime
In the aftermath of the 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala, government enforced the Simcards registration exercise: to have all data of mobile phone users captured, to fight crime.
Simcard registration necessitated having a proper national identity card; the result was an influx of registering IDs and Simcards.
During this phase, it became apparent that many people without IDs opted to use other people’s ID details to register. Officials shrugged off this concern, but experts pointed to the fact that this was major flaw that comprised the quality of data captured.
Between August 2017—the final deadline for Simcard registration and this year, there have been countless crimes that have been committed using mobile phones and yet police have been nearly unsuccessful in tackling the cumulative crime rate. A 2016 crime report by police’s Flying Squad Unit showed that several high-caliber guns, among other SMGs and Micro Uzi made from Israel or Singapore were in the hands of criminals. Similarly, police statistics showed that of the 4,500 murder cases committed during the preceding four years, less than 100 had been successfully investigated and culprits convicted.