The Legal Brains Trust has asked the High Court to expeditiously decide a case in which they sued the government over plans to install digital trackers in all vehicles.
The digital or electronic license plates system is aimed at enabling the government to monitor the movement of any cars, buses, trucks, or motorcycles, mainly for security purposes.
In 2021, the Minister for Security General Jim Muhwezi signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Russian Firm Joint Stock Company Global Security to implement the plan.
The plan was challenged by the Legal Brains Trust which wanted the court to “halt and restrain the government and its agents or any other person from implementing a compulsory digital surveillance of all motor vehicles, motorcycles, and other vehicles pending disposal of the main cause,” according to a statement from the law firm.
Despite this still pending court decision, the government has set July this year to implement the Intelligent Transport Management System (ITMS). This has prompted the lawyers to protest the delay by court to decide on the case.
In their petition to Court, the lawyers say it is unjustifiable to continue with the process without a decision by the court being made on the application.
“The aforementioned delay is difficult to justify to our client in light of the fact that there are plans to start implementation of the impugned mandatory vehicle tracking sometime in March 2023,” says the statement.
They are asking that the ruling in the matter be delivered to prevent the implementation of the plan. “The gravity and nature of the issues at stake demand an expeditious disposal in the interest of the nation,” the statement reads.
Muhwezi said at the signing of the MOU that the system would enable the government to hunt down and apprehend suspects who use motorcycles and cars to commit crimes, like shooting incidents.
However, Legal Brains Trust argued that this would be abused by the operators and would result in the bigger issue of violation of people’s rights since it is a surveillance system.
The minister said there were not violating any laws since the plan had been approved by the Solicitor General.
The lawyers also questioned why the government had gone for a Russian company, without the formal public bidding procedure.
They also wanted the government to explain why the contract was not given to a local and government agency, the National Enterprises Corporation, NEC, which had reportedly been studied and proven competent by a panel of experts.
In neighboring Kenya, digital license plates were introduced in August last year by the then-outgoing minister for transport Fred Matiang’i.
Vehicle owners in Kenya were given up to 18 months to migrate to the new plates, with each costing 90,000 (3,000 Kenya) shillings.
Some countries and some states in the United States that have introduced the system use it to ease payment of road tolls, track stolen cars, and enable electronic vehicle registration.
Muhwezi said at the event that all the cost of installing the digital number would be borne by the vehicle owner.
“Each individual will pay for the tracking devices as you pay for a permit or third-party insurance before putting the vehicle on the road. All vehicles will be registered to ensure they have that tracking device in them,” he said, advising those aggrieved to seek court redress.
It is not clear what the initial cost of a plate per vehicle will be, but at the signing ceremony, it was revealed that a tracker would be installed at a cost of 20,000.