Uganda finally rolls out new digital number plates

Uganda finally rolls out new digital number plates
Works and Transport minister Gen Katumba Wamala (L) and Security minister Gen Jim Muhwezi (2nd left) hold samples of digital number plates in Kampala

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Government of Uganda has officially unveiled the digital number plates, marking the culmination of a directive issued by President Yoweri Museveni three years ago, which entrusted the Russian firm, Joint Stock Company Global Security, with the implementation of a mandatory digital surveillance system.

Under the Intelligent Transport Management Systems program (ITMS), a 10-year agreement has been reached between the Ugandan government, represented by the Ministry of Works and Transport and the Ministry of Security, and the Russian company. The core objective of this initiative is to embed digital tracking chips within all registered automobile number plates in the country.

Gen Jim Muhwezi, the Minister of Security, emphasized that the introduction of these new number plates will play a pivotal role in curbing a range of criminal activities, including overspeeding, the misuse of vehicles for illicit purposes, and vehicle theft.

He stated, “The Intelligent Transport Monitoring System, which will work in conjunction with a network of cameras and sensors, is designed to monitor traffic flow, identify and track vehicles, and detect incidents in real-time. This collective effort aims to make our roads safer for everyone.

New vehicle and motorcycle owners will pay Shs 714,000, while exchanging existing plates will cost Shs 150,000 for motor vehicles and Shs 50,000 for motorcycles.

The enhanced number plates will make it more challenging for criminals to evade detection, thereby improving crime resolution and enhancing road safety. I urge all citizens to support these initiatives and collaborate with us to make our country a safer place for all.”

During an inauguration ceremony at the Ministry of Works and Transport, Minister General Katumba Wamala stressed that the primary benefit of implementing this system is to enhance safety and control of motor-vehicle-related criminal activities. Minister Katumba, who understands the growing trend of vehicle-related criminality, as he himself has been a victim, pledged that this innovative solution would help counteract this rising threat.

The initial phase will involve government vehicles, serving as a trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the new digital number plates before extending the program to the general public. Furthermore, following a successful trial, the program will be expanded to include motorcycles, with a particular focus on Boda boda operators within the capital city.

The rollout of the new digital number plates is planned in three phases, starting with government vehicles, followed by newly registered vehicles, and finally the replacement of existing plates already in use. The cost of obtaining the new digital number plates is set at 714,300 Ugandan shillings, while the fee for changing existing plates is 150,000 shillings.

Engineer Karim Kibuuka, responsible for number plate serialization, disclosed that the new system encompasses 16 categories of number plates, an increase from the previous 12. These extended categories include plates for Honorary Consulars, United Nations vehicles, and Uganda Prisons, among others.

Users were advised not to tamper with the installed digital number plates, and any accidental tampering should be reported to the Chief Licensing Officer within 24 hours. Deliberate tampering with the digital number plates is considered an offense and may result in a fine or imprisonment.

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The combination of numbers and letters on the new number plates has been expanded from seven to nine characters to accommodate the increased nomenclature. For government vehicles, the numbering format has also changed, replacing alphabets with a three-digit code, such as “thirty-eight” for the Ministry of Works. This adjustment was necessitated by a shortage of available alphabet combinations.

In the lead-up to the launch, Minister Kahinda Otafiire (Internal Affairs) expressed reservations regarding the agreement with the Russian company for digital number plates. He stated that he and his ministry had no prior knowledge of the matter, challenging the decision that was authorized by President Museveni.

The deal was finalized in 2021, during a transition of the cabinet. President Museveni, in a letter, instructed swift action and expressed initial concerns about the effectiveness of the technology and project funding. He highlighted the technology’s effectiveness, stating that it would simplify the tracking of criminals, and lamented that this initiative should have been implemented four years earlier, which would have greatly facilitated the task of tracing criminals.