Monday August 11 2008

Internal Affairs takes over ID project

By Alex B. Atuhaire


The Ministry of Internal Affairs has taken over the botched up National Identity card project under which massive registration and identification of Ugandan nationals will be conducted, Daily Monitor has learnt.

The project, to cost $56 million (about Shs90 billion) is in its last phase of the planning stage, after Internal Affairs Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and Permanent Secretary Stephen Kagoda named a six-member taskforce headed by Ms Irene Tewungwa, to spearhead the project.

The project earlier had its procurement process ending up in a scandal when it was being administered under the Ministry of Finance. According to an August, 2008 project road map, a copy Daily Monitor has seen, the task-force, which was appointed about four moths ago, has recommended that the original arrangement under “the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) basis be replaced and the government finances the project.

Accordingly, the government will only procure technology from a supplier who will only be engaged in training the officials in using the technology.

“Considering the dangers associated with having such critical national data under the control of third parties, it is strongly recommended that this arrangement be dropped,” the roadmap produced by Ms Tewungwa’s taskforce reads.

“Instead, money must be found by the government to put up the data bank. Development partners can be requested to help with the financing but the programme must be government-owned and controlled all through.”

Dr Rugunda was unavailable for comment over the weekend but a reliable Internal Affairs source intimated to Daily Monitor that Dr Rugunda on Thursday convened an inter-ministerial meeting attended by the Attorney General, Dr Khiddu Makubuya, in which the project progress was communicated.

Other ministers in attendance included Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire (Local Government), Dr Crispus Kiyonga (Defence), Prof Semakula Kiwanuka (State for Finance), a representative for Information and Communication Technology Ministry and the Electoral Commission team lead by Chairman Badru Kiggundu and Secretary Sam Rwakoojo.

The meeting, according to the source, who preferred no to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, agreed to broaden the taskforce to an inter-ministerial level to improve the roadmap. The take-over of the multi-million dollar project by the government means that South African company Face Technologies will have to re-tender if they are interested in the ID project.

In February, Face Technologies served the government with a notice of intention to sue seeking to recover Shs87 billion for freezing its contract to manage the ID project which the company claimed had caused it financial loss.

According to the notice served to the Attorney General on February 8, Face Technologies (FT) claimed the government committed itself when it offered them the tender to manage the National Population Databank and Identification System (NPDIS), but failed to proceed with the contract.
The Ministry of Finance, under which the project was then managed, on January 5, 2006 wrote to the South African company informing them that they had emerged the best bidder.

But almost immediately, the project got sucked into multiple scandals with former State Minister for Planning Isaac Musumba claiming that another company offered better terms than FT.

The Inspector General of Government Justice Faith Mwondha later stopped the project and started investigations into the deal after one of the losing firms, Contec Global, complained that they had been unfairly treated in the evaluation of the bids.

The IGG later recommended the cancellation of the process citing bribery and influence-peddling in the tender process and owning to the fact that Article 16 of the Constitution places the registration of citizens, the issuance of personal identification numbers and Ids under the National Citizenship and Immigration Control Board which is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

A source, who attended the Thursday meeting, indicated that Prof Makubuya indicated that Face Technologies, apart from serving him with a 45-day notice of intention to sue, had not lodged any court suit; hence there was no challenge to the implementation of the project by the government.
“The meeting noted that when it comes to procurement, the process will start afresh,” the source said.