Firm given billions, makes only 400 IDs

Tuesday November 29 2011

HAPPY RECIPIENT: Amama Mbabazi, Prime Minister.

HAPPY RECIPIENT: Amama Mbabazi, Prime Minister.  

By EMMANUEL GYEZAHO

A German firm has only produced 400 national identity cards a year after it was hurriedly recruited outside official procurement methods and given billions of taxpayer money.

Mühlbauer Technology Group was contracted in March 2010 without competitive bidding on the orders of President Museveni after reported lobbying by the then German ambassador to Kampala, Reinhard Butchnolz, who met the President a week before the contract was signed to make the case for the firm.

The company was expected to deliver 3.5 million ID cards by December 2010 and at least 21 million cards by the end of the project in June next year.

At a hushed ceremony yesterday, almost a year after the first deadline, officials from the National Citizenship and Immigration Board from the Internal Affairs Ministry handed over only the 400th card issued under the scheme – to Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.

“There have been financial constraints really,” Board Chairman Ambassador Wanume Kibedi said, explaining the delay. “That has been the drawback.” Officials from the company were not available for comment yesterday and could not confirm how much money it has received from government, although press reports at the signing indicated that the firm expected to receive at least 20 per cent of the Shs185 billion. If this money was paid, it would mean that the company has spent a year and Shs37 billion to produce only 400 cards.

Originally expected to roll out ahead of the February 2011 general election, phase one of the project was marked with the registration of new voters by the Electoral Commission.

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That phase, which saw the collection of bio-data of up to 5.5 million new voters is understood to have cost the Ugandan taxpayer as much as Shs122 billion.
This newspaper now understands that an extra Shs196 billion is being sought for the final implementation of the project, whose timeframe remains unknown, a matter that has got lawmakers raising the red flag.

Parliament’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Committee is due to meet officials from the Ministry of ICT this morning over the matter.

“We are extremely concerned about this project,” said committee chairman Nathan Nabeta, who admitted that government had not allocated any funding for the project under the ICT Ministry’s Shs12 billion budget this financial year, “besides the Shs600 million in this budget to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”

President’s directive
Originally under the Internal Affairs Ministry, President Museveni earlier this year directed that overall supervision of the project be placed under the ICT Ministry.
Uganda is the only country in the East African region where its citizens do not possess official identification cards, a vital tool that can be used for tracking criminals and illegal immigrants.

Mr Museveni received the first card and officially launched the project at his fourth term inauguration ceremony in May. “A lot has been happening. We gave the first card to the President and the second card to the First Lady and in between we have issued 400 cards including to Members of Parliament,” Amb. Kibedi said.

Asked why “no ordinary citizen” had yet been issued the cards, Amb. Kibedi argued that priority had dictated that officials of influence receive the IDs first, and added that Ugandans should expect to have their IDs “within the next two years.”

Premier Mbabazi marked the receipt of ID stating that he is not a Congolese citizen, as “rumours” may have suggested, but a complete Ugandan. “I am happy to have finally received this ID,” said Mr Mbabazi. “Those of you who were thinking I am Congolese, it has now been verified that I am 100 per cent Ugandan.”

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The contract done in the dark

For a contract meant to enhance transparency, it is ironic that decisions over the national ID scheme have largely taken place in the dark.

The sidelining of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) in this contract denied the country a chance to have competitive bidding and resulted in a contract that is more than three times higher than what neighbouring Tanzania, which has a larger population, spent. The justification given at the time – that single-sourcing would ensure timely delivery of the cards – has since been exposed by revelations that only 400 cards have been issued a year later and the project cannot, even by divine intervention, achieve its target of 21 million cards by mid-2012. The contract reveals, if any reminders were needed, the cost of political interference in the technocratic business of government procurement. Having seen the cost of political meddling by rent-seeking government officials during the previous tender, President Museveni had no business directing which firm received the tender. His intercession on behalf of Muhlbauer now leaves the country without a reasonable explanation, short of several billions, without a single technocrat to hold responsible – and without national ID cards. Ironically, it is the kind of crime for which someone ought to have his photo – and fingerprints – taken. [Daily Monitor]

egyezaho@ug.nationmedia.com

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