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NITA-U could play a major role in the national Identification project PDF Print E-mail

By Ronald Musoke

Uganda’s plan to issue national identity cards to citizens and solve the country’s age-old identification problem remains off track two years since the idea was first conceived.

Since its inception, the Uganda National Identification Programme (UNIP)—a government project under the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ department of citizenship and immigration has been mired in controversy. Major stakeholders contested the $56 million original cost of project and its entire procurement process.

Unlike its fellow East African Community neighbours, Kenya and Rwanda, that have had national IDs since independence, Uganda’s only nationally accepted form of identification documents still remain birth certificates, driving permits, local council or resident IDs, voters’ cards, marriage certificates and passports.

The authenticity of these documents has however, often left a lot to be desired. That is why a comprehensive nation-wide programme under the Immigration Department was re-awakened to issue national IDs to all eligible people living in the country.

According to Mr. Marcellino Bwesigye, the Operations and Public Relations Manager of UNIP, the 1995 Constitution under CAP 66 of the Laws of Uganda mandates the Department of Citizenship and Immigration to identify and register all people living in Uganda. This mandate was supposed to start as soon as the constitution was promulgated but that too took several years to implement.

This was supposed to be immediately followed by the issuance of national IDs to Ugandans.  Foreigners legally living in the country were also expected to get proper identification documents.

A commission headed by Supreme court Judge, Jotham Tumwesigye, noted that for immigration control to be effective, people’s identities should be captured and kept in one central retrieval system as opposed to the current situation where different departments engage in separate forms of registration and identification of people.

For example, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) in the Ministry of Justice is responsible for registration of new marriages while the ministries of Local Government, Health and Gender and Social Development separately handle the registration of births and deaths.

Although the law requires that each birth to be registered has existed since 1970, it has never been effectively implemented, partly as a result of lack of co-ordination in these ministries.

UNIP should not be written off

UNIP is still relevant to Uganda and the project should go ahead once on-going consultations by stakeholders are concluded.

“Personal identification is like owning land. If someone claims to own a piece of land, he or she should have a land title to prove ownership. Similarly, the national ID is like a land title. It helps to prove what an individual claims to be,” Bwesigye said.

Without a proper identification system, the country cannot accurately verify people’s identities creating loopholes like possessing up to three different passports under different names. With UNIP, people will be correctly identified each with a unique generated and assigned number.

The former Inspector General of Government, Faith Mwondha, halted UNIP after the planning phase had been completed and was proceeding to the procurement stage.

At the time, plans were underway to build a production house for equipment where the identity cards would be printed. At least two registration centres at every sub-county to continuously identify and register eligible people were to be put in place.

The programme was also supposed to start with verification of individuals at registration. Using the latest biometrics, the programme would then capture someone’s unique features using physical body characteristics as well as store fingerprints.

All Ugandans above 16 years would be eligible to receive IDs. Non-Ugandans would be required to have lived in the country for at least three years to qualify for an identification document.

Biometrics is an automated method of identifying persons using physiological or behavioral characteristics. According to the American government-owned Biometric Consortium, there is a 99 percent chance of correctly identifying an individual using this technology.

Among the features measured are the face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, irises, retinal, veins and voice. This system can also easily identify someone’s parents.

The programme would safeguard government programmes and assist socio-economic planning. But also deal with corruption and eradicate the problem of “ghost” employees in education and defense ministries that has led to misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“Fundamentally, a lack of people registration in the country is one of the reasons why there is so much corruption in the country. If we had done our work early enough, ‘ghosts’ would be history. We would also not need to register new voters every other time prior to a national election,” Bwesigye said.

UNIP’s initial implementation cost was $56 million and the programme was to target about 13 million people, the total number of Ugandans above 16 years.

At the peak of the controversies surrounding the programme, President Yoweri Museveni issued a directive, calling upon key stakeholders to work together in a bid to reduce costs, the reason that currently the programme is at consultation level.

NITA-U’s role in the Uganda ID project:

Key stakeholders like URSB, the Electoral Commission (EC), the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Immigration department and the Ministry of ICT are now supposed to work together to redeem the programme. But all these are still operating under different dockets and objectives.

However, Bwesigye notes that although these consultations are good for UNIP to work efficiently, it must have a one-stop centre. For instance census data cannot help in making passports or national IDs nor distinguish a refugee from a Ugandan.
Neither can UBOS be useful because the law regarding the national census has an anonymity clause that requires data to remain unedited once it has been approved.

While URSB’s data is simply inadequate because only four percent of Ugandans have genuine birth certificates. Another alternative, the immigration department, data is not accurate. It could be only the Citizenship and Immigration department that has the technical knowledge of verifying people’s citizenship claims.

“These activities by other stakeholders can only support us but we cannot use their respective data wholesomely,” said Bwesigye.

“NITA-U could play a major role in the operations of UNIP because “technologically, all the data should be kept in one central retrieval system and the Ministry of ICT has the technical know-how,” said an official at UNIP. NITA-U is a key stakeholder in the ID project.

“There have been suggestions that the UNIP Secretariat be hosted by NITA-U in the Ministry of ICT but the national backbone system is not ready, UBOS is not prepared while the Electoral Commission cannot wait for the rest to get organized,” said Bwesigye.

UNIP officials say they have the know-how and mandate to go on with the project but require adequate financial support from government. The issue of citizenship can be sorted out during the interviews at the identification and registration stage.

As you register them, you interview them. Once you find people who are non-citizens but eligible for citizenship, you grant them citizenship, said the official.

Bwesigye says politicization of the programme has not helped the UNIP cause and as a result the programme has lost so much time in relation to the original roadmap.

“There has been no time to design a system that will be foolproof and timeless. But we are currently jointly carrying out a feasibility study with technical assistance from the Japanese government,” he said.

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