Outdated NIRA machines leave 10m Ugandans without IDs

Nira executive director Rosemary Kisembo (2nd right front row) demonstrates how the Nira data system works to members of the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs during their visit to the Nira offices in Kololo, Kampala, yesterday. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The authority needs about Shs60 billion to procure identity cards and an additional Shs70 billion to set up Nira offices in selected districts.

At least 10 million Ugandans face an anxious wait before they can get their National Identity cards. Daily Monitor can reveal that the delay is occasioned by obsolete machines at the National Identification and Registration Authority (Nira) and lack of funds to procure nine million cards to print the identity cards.

The latest data from the authority indicates that only 19 millon of the 29 million applicants have had their cards printed, leaving a gap of 10 million. Elsewhere, 487,000 applicants have obtained the National Identification Number, leaving a deficit of about 3.2 million people. All the delays in processing the required documents have been attributed to old and outdated machines that have slowed down the data processing.

Nira executive director Rosemary Kisembo told legislators on the Committee of Defence and Internal Affairs that the situation needs urgent attention.

She said while the government signed a new joint venture agreement with the Uganda Security Printing Company (USPS), intellectual property rights issues shut the new multipurpose venture company out of the current software system.

Ms Kisembo also revealed that the current printing and registration machines were procured more than 10 years ago and that both the machines and their spare parts are out of production.

“We have a vendor locked obsolete system. The person who installed this system did not envisage a day when they will not be around. As such, the [right] of changing the system was retained as intellectual property to the owner of the system,” she said, adding: “We have obsolete technology. It is one thing to be vendor-locked and the second thing is that it is at the end of the life.” 

Ms Kisembo said the authority needs about Shs60 billion to procure identity cards and an additional Shs70 billion to set up Nira offices in selected districts.

“We have an obligation to purchase nine million cards from USPC and we have a funding gap of Shs67.634b in regards to that. In order to adequately register the 16.4 million Ugandans, and bring the services close to the parishes, Nira will need Shs71.9b,” she said.

Dead, obsolete machines
A machine is deemed to be at the end of life when the manufacturer stops manufacturing the machines, but continues to manufacture spare parts. Nira’s case is different because the manufacturer has also stopped manufacturing the spare parts and repairing the machines. This means the only option is to decommission the machines.

“If you go to the market right now, you will only get refurbished parts because the manufacturer has stopped manufacturing the spares and so these refurbished parts cannot do the same work like those that are new,” Ms Kisembo said.

Brig Stephen Kwiringira, the director of registration and operations at Nira, said the technologies that they are having are obsolete. For example, he said the registration kits were procured in 2010 and 2014. He also said Nira does not have a fallback system in the event that disaster strikes the main site.

He added: “The current registration system [poses] a risk because if you are running operating systems which are not supported by the original manufacturer it means that you are not getting the security upgrades that you should be getting. They become a source of breaches and data losses.” 

Brig Kwiringira said only one of the two machines procured in 2010 for production of the IDs is working albeit below capacity. He added that only one of two machines procured in 2014 is working.

Finance ministry speaks out
Mr Jim Mugunga, the Finance ministry spokesperson, told Daily Monitor yesterday that he is not certain whether the Shs67.634b was budgeted for. He also added that the release of funds is based on the available resource envelope. 

“The Ministry of Finance receives funding requirements from multiple MDAs and these are processed according to the available resources. The decision for allocations are made by Cabinet and once it is done, we process them depending on what is available,” Mr Mugunga said.

Ms Rosemary Nyakikongoro, the chairperson of the parliamentary Defence and Internal Affairs Committee, with its members have promised to compel the government to allocate more funds to Nira.