Uganda is again enveloped in a throbbing distress arising from its otherwise plausible effort to issue national Identity Cards (IDs) to citizens.
The identification exercise is seminal; it is to gather and store verified bio-data of Ugandan citizens centrally while the ID card entitles holders to access government services. In law and in fact, therefore, recipients of the document must be verified nationals.
The cards, among others uses, help authorities to determine individuals eligible to cast the ballot during elections; banks require it to credential clients for financial transactions; and, authentication of SIM Card registration is tied to a subscriber’s ownership of one. Thus the national ID card is an essential document. Yet obtaining it has been difficult for many, impossible for few and cumbersome for most.
The National Identification and Registration Authority (Nira) has explained that the construed delays in getting the document is a result of meticulous processes in place for checks. We underline the significance of stringent verification criteria. We also re-state that it is critical for the government to establish a secure, centralised information portal with substantive information about all citizens.
Why? It creates reliable data to feed informed planning, eases tracing of individuals in the event of, say, disaster, provides reference for official decision and provides information useful for law enforcement. To achieve a credible and reliable data bank, we ask the government to consider afresh our proposal that it merges citizens’ information in its possession in disparate portals.
Let it deploy statisticians in one room to collate and harmonise data sets held on nationals separately by hospitals and local governments on births and deaths; Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) on business registration; information in passport application stored by the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigrations; and, marriage and divorce records availed with churches, URSB and courts.
Tax filings with Uganda Revenue Authority; property ownership records with town, municipal and city authorities; subscriber details captured by telecommunication companies; and, the metadata the Electoral Commission has captured about adult citizens registered as voter provide limitless biographical resources for the government to mine.
And add to that information captured during the National Housing and Population Census. In short, the government has a glut of information about citizens that authenticating a person’s particulars submitted to one agency should be easy to cross-check with data sets held by another state arm.
We then ask: Why, for instance, are telecoms repeatedly asking subscribers to re-submit bio-data to re-authenticate their identities. It is our position that the government should collates citizens’ information and stores in a central, secure portal.