There is no denying that proposal by Deputy President William Ruto (seated right) to conduct a fresh digital registration of Kenyans is not only timely but urgent for Kenya.
Dubbed “super ID card”, the Government says the card will contain biometric information including an individual’s unique biological markers, social security and national insurance details.
It was further announced that a database of the new information will be established to give the State accurate and detailed information about all citizens.
There is always a sense of lack of legal security around the documents we hold – national ID card, voter cards, passports, births, marriage and death certificates since anyone can acquire similar genuine documents, in our very names, in a non-genuine manner.
Past talk of land titles, for instance, as “mere pieces of paper” by some senior government officials moved to confirm such fears to be valid. Their value to be held as collaterals with banks plummeted and today requires a lengthy and costly verification process.
What is even more crucial is that tracking any changes in civil status cannot be promptly recorded, as records are often incomplete and legal claims cannot be validated. This aspect alone explains the challenge of costly “ghost workers” who drain the economy.
Development of an automated and integrated registration system, meeting modern data management systems, is a key element to realizing integrity of citizen identification documentations.
From the scanty information available within the media, it is difficult to understand the scope of the proposed project, how much it will integrate data, what it intends to cure and most importantly the integrity of the entire system from abuse by those managing it.
The overall undisclosed cost would be another key aspect which will determine whether or not the project will succeed.
But that is as good as the proposed project can be. The rest, if not addressed well, will strangle it before it takes off. The issues can be summarized as follows;
First, the casual manner such a massive project was announced and the scanty details released at a consultative meeting between Mr Ruto and officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) confirmed the government has nothing substantive yet.
It was therefore not surprising that it was reported that a technical committee between the Ministries of ICT and Interior is working on the details which position begs answers on whether or not the announcement was either premature or speculative.
Second, Kenyans have not been told what exactly went wrong with a similar project where the IEBC was not too lucky with the Biometric Voter Register (BVR) after registering over 14 million people.
Public trust levels in such projects is fairly low given the unmet pledges on new generation ID’s and security passports.
Third, registering voters is anchored on different legislations as compared with registration of persons. The formats could also slightly vary.
Fourth, the registration could have obvious political implication especially on doing away with outdated population census report as a way of marking political boundaries as well as basis for national revenue allocation. These two aspects are sure to attract resistance especially on imaginary links to 2017 polls.
Legal hurdles are sure to crop up especially as relates to provisions of Chapter 3 on Citizenship and the inconsistencies in the Act. Procurement challenges, as witnessed on the laptop-for-schools project, is another likelihood that the project may not see the light of day too soon.
That said, there are a couple of issues that need to be considered to ensure the proposed project succeeds;
First, there is need for a master plan for establishing and modernizing an integrated real time register of details from birth to death. This would encompass a register of births, citizenship, marriages and deaths.
Second, an appropriate IT infrastructure for managing the register. To require such a system to work well requires the fiber optic cabling will be done across the country, there will be electricity and
Third, a carefully selected working group, at the national and county government levels, for the conservation and digitization of historical documents relating to the registration of births, marriages and deaths and their transfer and uploading into the new system.
The basis of information for registration need to be broadened significantly, both quantitatively and qualitatively, by the integration of historical data.
Fourth, there would be need to ensure that standards for providing services relating to the registration of births, citizenship marriages and deaths are defined and linked to the extent possible.
If not carefully handled, the proposed project has all the draping of a mega scandal. It is a project that must not politicized and rushed especially determining the specifications and subsequent procurement.
It doesn't have to go to China or India, like the troubled standard gauge railway and laptops for schools projects.
"This entire re-registration issue is a little hazy - if the register we have now is has inaccurate data, how will we ascertain who is or who isn't a citizen? Are we then saying that we will give citizenship to anyone who is a citizen? How will people prove citizenship? If we'll give citizenship to anyone, what's the point of the audit?
"Additionally, the problem is that immigration officials have repeatedly poisoned the well - however, nobody has been fired, so what's to prevent them from doing this again? In fact, what's to prevent them from viewing this re-registration as a windfall that will allow even more illegal aliens to be registered?", Phares Kariuki, Courtesy: Kictanet