Kenyans should support the planned introduction of stringent rules to govern the registration of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards. It is unfortunate that the rules will come into force after the country suffered a horrific loss following the Westgate Mall terrorist attack that left 70 people dead and scores injured.
Equally unfortunate, is the fact that the rules will be introduced at a time when the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and the mobile telephone operators are yet to agree on whether the unregistered numbers have all been switched off.
This needless disagreement should be resolved, fast, because it is serving no one’s interest except, perhaps, the criminal gangs such as the Al-Shabaab and their rag-tag local imitators who are branching into kidnapping.
According to The National Crime Research Centre, Nairobi alone has 14 organised gangs involved in kidnapping and extortion rackets. There is a consensus in all civilized societies that it is the duty of every one to help the law enforcement agencies to deal with these miscreants by stopping them before they engage in their nefarious activities.
In the instances where attempts to stop them fails, the public responsibility shifts to helping the police to catch them and ensure they face the full force of the law.
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The registration of SIM cards is important because the criminals have to get in touch with their intended victims while still trying to protect themselves.
Short of sending a human emissary, the perpetrators have no choice but to use their mobile phones to communicate with the people from whom they are extorting money and among themselves in the event they are not in the same location.
It is disheartening to note that although CCK gave mobile telephone operators until January this year to register all subscribers and to ensure that no unregistered SIM cards were in use, that was not to be.
CCK’s good intentions were undermined by the usual Kenyan style of procrastinating until the terrorists struck last month.
That is when the police also realised they could not track down the terrorists’ conversations for the simple reason that they were using unregistered SIM cards.
The hope now is that all the parties, the government through CCK and the four mobile telephone operators will put their heads together and come up with new workable guidelines that will not prove inconvenient to users. This should not prove difficult considering that there are many examples around the world from which the local regulators can borrow a thing or two.
But even greater hope is that the regulators will borrow judiciously to avoid saddling the country with the worst of foreign and local rules as has happened so many times and in so many areas before.
The muddled traffic laws are a good example of what not to borrow for higher fines borrowed from elsewhere have left local motorists having to part with sizeable amounts of money to avoid going to court in a system that is heavily stacked against them.
The aim therefore, should be to get the best of both worlds with the key words remaining clarity and enforceability.