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Chiloba hangs up as subscribers decline call to register phone lines

Communications Authority CEO Ezra Chiloba during the launch of Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) Fibre Optic Cable at Serena Hotel Nairobi on Thursday, April 07, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

In the present storm over SIM Card registration, Communication Authority of Kenya CEO Ezra Chiloba must be taking huge consolation in the song “Siskii”.

“Mbelee ya watu ni mpoleee, very calm. Lakini looks are deceiving…” the lyrics go, almost depicting the situation obtaining for Chiloba, now caught up in fresh storm: “Babyface isikuingize, huyu ni stima!” the song goes.

The ex-electoral commission CEO whose looks, height, size and complexion played havoc with the hearts of Kenyan women during the 2017 election period, earning himself the name Chilobae, admits he’s steely than people think.

When we spoke to him over the panic created by the directive which he withdrew yesterday that SIM cards be re-registered, he was least trifled by the sights of long queues outside offices of mobile phone companies.

“Siskii….  And I cannot be intimidated! The fact of the matter is that these are 2015 regulations. The operators have been at it for a while now, and made a number of commitments. These are not Chiloba regulations,” he said.

“If anyone thinks they can intimidate me they are in for a rude shock, the deadline remains April 15.”

In the last few days, Kenyans have been flocking telecom shops to register their mobile phone lines.

According to Chiloba, what is happening is nothing new, other than the fact a deadline imposed on telecom operators to ensure compliance is fast approaching.

He was not amused that everything has been made to look like he’s up to no good. He believes the tables have been turned on him, unfairly.

“Initially it was not our problem. It was the operators’ responsibility… we gave them notice to make sure that their subscribers comply with the regulations. It’s been going on for the last two years, but then towards the end of last year, we started getting a bit of resistance, and we decided to give them notice,” he said.

He said it was, and still is, up to the service providers to see what to do with their subscribers who do not comply, including the most obvious and natural one provided in the regulations- suspension of non-compliant subscribers.

“How is it then that this has been rolled over me, so now it looks like I am out to torment Kenyans, when I am actually acting in their bigger and best interests?” Chiloba posed.

He said he was waiting for April 15… to see whether the telecom companies will keep their end of the bargain.

On Thursday, the companies held a meeting with CA where they raised the issue of poor response by Kenyans despite months of sensitisation and sought more time. Chiloba told them No.

“How can you have such a low level of compliance… 50 percent? That would mean there are millions of subscriptions you cannot account for, and which are probably being used to con Kenyans, to terrorise them, and to deny us much needed revenues!” he added.

He said some of the companies, despite their pleas, had even grown a little more overzealous and started taking photos of subscribers. He said that is not in the regulations and is not required.

Verification and update exercise

“They are doing it their own way, and for purposes other than those in the regulations. We do not need anyone’s photo for them to be compliant. This is a verification and update exercise, for heaven’s sake! It is not a new registration,” he clarified.

As soon as this messaging went out- verification, not new registration- politicians seized the moment. Former leader of majority in National Assembly Aden Duale claimed Chiloba was up to no good, nevertheless.

He made a number of claims, including linking the registration to the conduct of the general election in August. Chilobae says he’s least bothered by such claims, because they have zero basis.

“He’s a politician,” Chiloba responded.

He said Kenyans are exposed to all manner of ills thanks to non-foolproof SIM registration regime. From identity theft to “SIM boxing” where unscrupulous Kenyans are diverting international calls to mint millions, he says Kenyans are a tortured lot, and should be fighting on his side.

“It’s all in good faith… public interest. In the end, Kenyans will thank us,” he added, with a laugh.

As for the penalties. “Yes, they are there in black and white; Sh300,000 fine for those who do not comply with the regulations.”

When asked who between the subscribers and the operators should pay, he was categorical.

“It could be either of them, or both… anyone in breach of the regulations, be it the operators or the subscribers.”

On Friday, ICT CS Joe Mucheru added to the confusion, forming a task force to among other things, develop regulations on SIM card regulations. Chiloba said there was no confusion at all, and the task force was necessary because the regulations need to be reviewed to align the with developments in the sector.

“It’s a reform measure. It doesn’t mean that the existing regulations do not hold. These are 2015 regulations and since then, changes have taken place in the sector, including emerging concerns on protection of minors and vulnerable groups,” he added.

For now, he insists, what holds is the 2015 regulations, and CA will enforce the same to the letter, until they are updated and strengthened.