Sunday January 19 2014

Fresh issuance of national IDs starts in July - Aronda

Internal Affairs minister Aronda Nyakairima.

Internal Affairs minister Aronda Nyakairima. PHOTO BY FAISWAL KASIRYE 

By Frederic Musisi

How is the National ID project going since you took charge of it?
No, this is not the ID project, it’s a mass enrollment exercise. The ID project is simply part of this exercise, like we are going to register birth and death by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) and Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) will be preparing for census. In other words we are going to capture data which will change this country.

How long do you think this exercise is going to take?
The exercise starts in January and collection of data will take a month, then come back to process the data which will take another three months, and then in July we will start issuing the IDs.
The first process of issuing of the IDs was a pilot project, and there were several lessons learnt and we have also bench-marked elsewhere from countries like Rwanda and Ghana on how they have done it.
From the lessons learnt we decided to start the process afresh and Cabinet gave authority to the Prime Minister to chair a ministerial committee to think through afresh; which required studies, clarifications and a number of technical studies which were all done and Cabinet approved the strategy and also amended parts of it.
Initially, it was for national ID project but government decided that since all agencies are going to reach the same individuals, we merge all resources both human and material and go around the country and enroll citizens and ultimately issue out identity cards.
At the end, UBOS, Electoral Commission (EC), URSB, will have collected their intended data because actually some agencies have fully fledged regional structures to steer the process.
This month we shall rollout according to regions the way EC zoned them.

What kind of information are you seeking from people in this kind of programme?
We are going into a system of biometrics due to the East African Community Integration. All these other countries have identity cards and they have allowed us to use students identity cards, passports and any other document, but they have told us move faster and have national IDs because we are running risks in other areas like education (specifying nationalities) and fighting crime because IDs are machine readable and we shall be collecting all the necessary data which can be kept in a record.

The programme seems sophisticated but do we have the manpower or IT expertise to run it?
It’s not sophisticated at all because the participating agencies have been at it. For example EC knows how to register people especially the voting age for their purpose, and actually we are not going through all the 36 million people.
We are only targeting persons aged 16 and above, UBOS has expertise in conducting the census, and the Directorate of Immigrations also has overall expertise in all this exercise and are familiar with the kits, cameras and printers.
These agencies involved have enough training and equipment in addition to what we are going to add on.

Does Muhlbauer Technology still have a role to play?
Yes they do, we still have their contract running and equipment. We are only going to purchase additional equipment to add on.
How will you ensure that IDs once issued are not forged as was reported in other countries?
I can’t tell you that we are going to get it 100 percent. There will be some challenges here and there but we have learnt reasonable lessons since we started.
In fact, that is also why we agreed to start with the age of 16 and after the elections somewhere, we shall come back to register the zero age and above, including aliens. The exercise shall be conducted at district, sub-county and parish levels.

Are you going to require birth certificates as evidences?
All sorts of evidences, if you don’t have a document at least residents of the area; chairman, RDCs, or security personnel should back you up. In other wards out of 10 people at least 8 should be able to back you up.

In some areas/districts we have aliens who have blended in well in the population yet even the immediate Local Council systems seem non-operational. How will you distinguish the locals from aliens?
No, we are building sufficient checks and balances depending on all stakeholders. We are going to rely on intelligence agencies like ISO and police, which have people from the sub-county to the district level.
These will help us identify Ugandans from non-Ugandans.

The recent involvement of the army in the ID project raises public outcry about likely intimidation, and with your move to include more security operatives possess another threat. What is the role of the army in this?
There shouldn’t be any outcry. We have had insurgencies from Arua to Karamoja, to Kasese, why was there no outcry. Why shouldn’t people trust the people who delivered the country to where it is?
The outcry is completely uncalled for because the project is multi-sectoral and managed with agencies like Ubos, National Information Technology Authority Uganda, among others and it is well structured and approved by Cabinet.

There have also been concerns over the EC extracting and fixing an electoral register from this process?
EC processes will remain and continue as they have always been, so nothing unknown will happen which is not announced. We only want to use their people to ensure that we gather data used for multiple advantages.

In terms of fighting crime the project is so much aligned to IT, but how will it be managed if many police stations have no equipment and officers are not technology savvy?
Yes, that is true, but at least somewhere at the district level it should be able to work. In fact with the evolvement of the National Infrastructural Backbone, the project will take us into a new phase of development.

Why are you moving into registration of births and deaths at this moment yet URSB has been insignificant in its role all along?
Yes, we have not been mindful about data but now we need this data for national planning in terms of social services. The project will play a huge role in the creation of national data about the citizens.

How prepared are you this time-around after previous intrigue and infighting of the agencies which halted the ID project?
We don’t keep in the past but rather look and fix the future, and am a person who believes in team work. Yes, I found there some misunderstanding and they too lacked direction on what they were supposed to do.
For example, some wanted to first construct the National Security Information System (NSIS), but I told them let us take advantage of the existing infrastructure, while they rest were in indisciplined.
They were also looking at a smaller picture of making IDs but right now we are in the bigger picture of capturing national data.

We have it on record about IDs here costing at least $14 dollars moreover for a cheap Polaroid material yet countries like Rwanda made a similar durable ID at $5 each. What are you offering that is so special?
You see, every country has its own challenges, approaches and different models. Since government decided to use all these agencies, comparative studies were made and analysis at the technical level conducted and later approved at a political level.
We are satisfied that we will get value for our money. The cost was studied by the Ministry of Finance and we are going to have a Uganda model from which other countries will always refer to us.