NIRA failure: A case of poor management of the State

Saturday August 17 2019


By Asuman Bisiika

Last October, I lost my mobile phone. Like any law abiding citizen, I reported that matter to police the next day.
Armed with a police report, I went to MTN (and later Airtel) seeking a replacement of my SIM card. But the thumbprint on my National ID could not activate my ID profile in the MTN system. Both MTN and Airtel advised me to get a National ID in order to get SIM Card replacements.
Meanwhile, my lost phone seems to have mysteriously landed in the hands of the intelligence service of a neighbouring country. How did I know? Someone traceable to the security service of that neighbouring country sent me screen shots of a WhatsApp chat I had had with the mother of a female politician in that country. Phew!
But that is not the story I would like to share. The story is: I applied for a new National ID in October 2018, I received it in June 2019. And for all that time, dear reader, I enjoyed full support and assistance of NIRA’s director of operations (to whom I had been introduced by a senior military officer). Early this year, I had lunch with NIRA’s director of operations at some hotel in Kampala. A Ugandan diplomat friend, who was soon to be posted to another country, joined us.
A month or two later, the diplomat called me from the country of his or her new posting. They wanted to secure their Ugandan housekeeper a passport so she could join them. To get a passport, one needs a National ID; which the maid didn’t have.
Now, my diplomat friend wanted me to ‘talk to your NIRA friend. The one with whom we had lunch the other time. Ask him to secure my house keeper a National ID. Please ask him to treat this as an emergency’.
We got a National Identification Number (NIN) for the diplomat’s maid without involving the Director of Operations. We just bribed our way through. After securing the NIN, we got the housekeeper her first passport. She is now living with the diplomat friend ‘in outside countries’ #Nyabula.

The problem with these agencies is not the personnel. It is just the failure of the government’s administrative management of the State. This failure is more manifest in what I will call ‘projectisation of the government’.
Government programmes no longer run in the traditional single-back-bone model, where the parish chief (the last administrative unit leader) is the frontline actor for government policy actions and absorption. You ask yourselves, why can’t primary data for National IDs be collected by the parish chief (who is already on government Pay Roll)? The raw data from the parish chief could then be digitised at district level. The level of redundancy at district headquarters, has now reached epidemic levels. If these ‘projectised government services’ were devolved to the district local government public service, may be they give the districts the aura of a government unit.
This central government tendency or attitude of treating local governments as if they are not part of government is terrible and is responsible for ‘the projectisation of the government’. This has led to what scholars call ‘the ebbing recession of the State’.
Even simple service delivery actions like Naads, are ‘projectised’. In fact Operation Wealth Creation is a projectised undertaking in Naads (and oh yes, Naads still exists, if you didn’t know).
The National ID was also ‘projectised’. Tagging Nira as part of the security architecture is even laughable. But it is easy to detect the objective of this tagging: the tag of security offered the easiest way for Nira to be ‘projectised’.

Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East African Flagpost.