Gov’t begins roll-out of sh700,000 digital number plates

Ministers Katumba Wamala (left) and Jim Muhwezi at the launch of the new car digital number plates on Wednesday, November 01, 2023

Kampala, (UG): Government of Uganda has officially launched the Digital number plates, three years after President Museveni issued a directive authorizing the Russian firm, Joint Stock Company Global Security, to execute a compulsory digital surveillance system.

Through the Ministry of Works and Transport together with the Ministry of Security, the government has agreed a 10-year deal with the Russian company to install digital tracking chips in all automobile number plates registered in the country, under the Intelligent Transport Management Systems program- ITMS.

Jim Muhwezi, the Minster of Security said that the new number plates will control many crimes including overspeeding, criminals using vehicles for illicit intentions, and vehicle theft.

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“The Intelligent Transport Monitoring System which will work with a network of cameras and sensors that will be used to monitor traffic flow, identify and track vehicles, and detect incidents in real-time to make our roads safer for everyone,” he said.

“The new enhanced number plates will make it more difficult for criminals to avoid detection hence improving crime resolution and road safety. I urge all citizens to support these initiatives and to work with us to make our country a safer place for everyone,” Mr Muhwezi added.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony on Wednesday, the Minister of Works and Transport, Gen Katumba Wamala said that the primary benefit of rolling out the system is Safety and control of motor-vehicle-related criminality.

The Minister said he understands the trends of motor vehicle-related criminality because he is a victim and pledged that this innovation will curb what is now described as a rising trend of vehicle-related criminality.

Katumba noted that the initial phase will involve government vehicles, allowing officials to gauge the effectiveness of the new digital number plates before extending the implementation to the general public.  He added that following a successful trial, the program will be extended to motorcycles, particularly Bodaboda operators within the capital city.

According to the program, the rolling out of new number plates was supposed to be in three phases, starting with government vehicles, then newly registered ones, and later the old ones that are already on the road. Acquiring the digital plate New number plates will cost 714,300 while changing numbers will cost 150,000 shillings.

Engineer Karim Kibuuka, who is responsible for the number plate serialization, revealed that the new system includes 16 categories of number plates, an increase from the previous 12. This expanded range encompasses plates for Honorary Consulars, United Nations vehicles, and Uganda Prisons, among others.

He also cautioned users not to tamper with installed number plates and also made it clear that accidental tampering with the digital number plate should be reported to the Chief licensing officer within 24 hours.

“A person who intentionally tampers with the installed number plate commits an offense and shall be liable to a fine on condition to a fine not exceeding One hundred currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both,” he said.

“The ITMS will be able to detect illegal removal of installed number plates. Registration plates will only be removed only upon seeking authorization from the chief licensing officer and on a justified cause.” He added.

Kibuuka said that the combination of numbers and letters on the new number plates has increased from seven to nine characters to accommodate the expanded nomenclature.

For government vehicles, the numbering format has also changed. Instead of alphabets, they will now bear a three-digit code, such as thirty-eight for the Ministry of Works, and he explained that this was done due to a shortage of available alphabet combinations.

In the run-up to the launch, Minister Kahinda Otafiire (Internal Affairs) disagreed over the deal to hand a Russian company the mandate to do digital number plates.

While appearing before a parliament committee over the matter, Otafiire said he and his ministry have no prior knowledge of the matter throwing it back at his Bush War colleague who authorized the agreement.

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The deal was finalized in 2021 as a new cabinet was taking up office. In a letter written by Museveni, he instructed Muhwezi to act very fast. “Do not waste time with any other group because these were the first to bring this proposal.” In the letter, Museveni says he was initially concerned about two things regarding the Russian company; first, whether its technology works, and two the funding for the project. “On the effectiveness of the technology, read Engineer (Gerald) Lumu’s report.

He says that it is effective and anybody trying to tamper with the gadget would be detected,” Museveni writes, “This should have been implemented four years ago.

This would have made the work of tracing criminals very simple.”

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