The National Information and Communications Technology Authority (NICTA) will immediately effect the deactivation.
“This action has my full backing and support as the Minister for Communications and Information Technology,” said Minister and South Bougainville MP, Timothy Masiu.
“NICTA has by now given notice to all mobile network operators (MNOs), issuing further instructions to effectively commence this process. The consultation with the MNOs commenced on Thursday, January 16, 2020.
“This decision comes after the recent Supreme Court’s dismissal of the Supreme Court reference by the Ombudsman Commission, challenging the constitutional validity and legality of the SIM Card Registration Regulation.
“As a result of the Supreme Court reference and pending the court’s decision, the deactivation of unregistered SIM cards was put on hold for most of 2019. There is now no legal restriction for NICTA to enforce the SIM Card Registration Regulation 2016, hence the immediate deactivation of unregistered SIM cards will proceed as initially planned in 2019.
“It is important to note that since 2016, multiple grace periods and extensions have been given to all mobile network operators.
“We do take note of the various ongoing challenges of our people in verifying identity and registering SIM card, particularly in the rural areas, thus I call on all authorities from provincial and district offices, churches and also within our local communities and villages to support our people in this important process.
“The deactivation process has now commenced in January and will end on March 31, 2020.”
It is believed that over 600,000 users will be left disconnected, especially those in the rural areas who were unable to validate their identities to register their SIM cards.
It was hoped that the National Identification (NID) project would cover this issue but unfortunately, rural Papua New Guineans will now be more vulnerable than ever, especially when it comes to seeking assistance during medical emergencies.
Police Minister Bryan Kramer, when lobbying against the deactivation, said it is “unconstitutional for not only violating the basic rights of our citizens but even putting their lives at risk”.
When recently asked for his comment, he told this newsroom: “I will speak to the Minister responsible and Prime Minister to raise my concerns on how it will impact on rural population.”