AG asks court to dismiss petition against use of national IDs to access SAGE

An old man receives cash. Key government programmes meant to benefit persons living with multiple forms of vulnerabilities are not able to effectively cover all target groups with limited funding to social protection. PHOTO/file

The Attorney General, Mr Kiryowa Kiwanuka, and the National Identification Registration Authority (NIRA) have asked the High Court to dismiss with costs a case challenging the use of national identification cards as a requirement to access elderly funds.
The AG states that in the absence of a credible system to authenticate the identity and age of beneficiaries it is difficult to ensure that the benefits and services reach the intended beneficiaries.

“The rationale for this is so that ineligible beneficiaries do not access these funds to the disadvantage of those rightfully entitled to the benefits,” reads the sworn statement.
The AG’s assertions are contained in the sworn statement by the head of expanding the social protection programme under SAGE programme of the Gender Ministry Mr Stephen Kasaija, in response to the case filed by three Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).   

The organisations, accompanied by a group of the elderly include Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Unwanted Witness and Health Equity and Policy Initiative.
They allege that the requirement violates the right to social security protection of older persons.
But the AG cites the World Bank report which notes that the direct income support and other programmes require reliable identification for effecting targeting and financial transfers and also to avoid undue duplication of enrollments.
“There is no evidence that the use of the national identification register to access SAGE benefits by older persons is exclusionary as alleged by the applicants. The NIRA identification system is all inclusive and allows all persons regardless of age to access registration services,” Mr Kasaija contended.

Ms Rosemary Kisembo, the Executive Director of NIRA said that NIRA is mandated by law to promote the use of the national identification card to advance political, economic and social activities and enhance security in the country.
Ms Kisembo stated that NIRA currently has 117 operational offices spread across the country and all newly created districts to enhance accessibility to the registration services.

The case
Three CSOs sued the AG and NIRA challenging the government on the use of national identification cards in order to access social services, including health.
They want the court to declare national identification cards as the primary data source and only means of identification under Section 65(1)(j) and 66 of the Registration of Persons Act 2015 to access Social Assistance Grant for Empowerment (SAGE) benefits by older persons as exclusionary.

Through their lawyers, the activists are also contesting the use of the national identification registers to prove nationality, saying it is a violation of the right to non-discrimination and the internationally recognised right to a nationality and freedom from statelessness.
According to the court documents, the activists contend that in their research findings from reports, interviews and published statements, the digital national identification system excludes women and older persons thus violating their rights to social security protection, among others.

The court documents also indicate that although the government established a senior citizen grant to promote the rights and welfare of older persons, the access to the SAGE benefits has been unfairly and unjustly impeded by the use of the National Identification register.
Meanwhile two people calling themselves friends of court have asked the court to be added as a party to the suit. They include, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa CIPESA, a non-government organization and Prof Philp Alston from New York.
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