Govt makes U-turn over national identity cards

03Mar 2016
Felister Peter
The Guardian
Govt makes U-turn over national identity cards
  • Now finally admits that the controversial ID cards are flawed and announces plans to recall 2.5 million cards due to missing signatures

THE government has made a dramatic U-turn on the new national electronic identity cards by finally admitting that they are flawed and announced plans to recall over 2 million cards handed out to citizens because they lack visible handwritten signatures.

Former President Jakaya Kikwete (second left) admires a specimen of his National ID card shortly after he had inaugurated the National System of Registration

The reversal comes after recent public denials by the Minister for Home Affairs, Charles Kitwanga, and other top government officials who claimed that the new ID cards were top notch technology based on bio metric authentication, which is way superior than 'outdated' identity cards with hand-written signatures such as voters' IDs.

But in a sudden change of policy, the state-run National Identification Authority (NIDA) announced yesterday that it would now scrap the current national IDs that lack signatures and issue new identity cards with visible handwritten signatures.

President John Magufuli last month publicly criticised the national ID cards, saying they were flawed because they lacked visible signatures.

However, the Home Affairs minister and top NIDA officials maintained that the national ID cards were perfectly fine and insisted that more of the same cards would be issued without signatures.

NIDA said in a statement on Tuesday that it would recall over 2 million national ID cards issued to citizens that lack signatures and replace them with new cards that have signatures.

"The new national ID cards will have the signature of the card holder at the front and the signature of the director general of NIDA at the back (card issuer)," the authority said in a statement.

The acting director general of NIDA, Modestus Kipilimba, confirmed to The Guardian in an interview yesterday that the government had now decided to replace all national ID cards that lack signatures and issue new cards.

He said all other features would remain the same and that the only thing that would change is the inclusion of the now seemingly "all-important" signatures.

“The only thing that we are going to do on the new ID cards is to display the signature,” he explained.

NIDA officials did not explain why they have had the sudden change of heart after initially vehemently defending the national ID cards as flawless.

Kitwanga, who also backed the "signature-less" ID cards was not immediately available for comment.

The Malaysian company that produced the identity cards, Iris, has not responded to requests from The Guardian for comment.

Here's a timeline of the controversy on the missing signatures in the faulty ID cards:

FEBRUARY 4, 2016

Speaking at the law day celebrations in Dar es Salaam, President Magufuli criticised the national ID cards as flawed because they lacked finderprints.

Magufuli suspended the NIDA director general, Dickson Maimu, and four other officials in January to pave the way for a thorough investigation on procurement processes after it was found that a total of Tshs 179.6 billion/- had questionably been spent on the far-from-completed national IDs project so far.

"It is possible that all of you here boast that you have national ID cards, but check those national IDs to see if they have your signatures," he said.

"I dare anyone here who has a national ID with his signature to stand up ... but IDs issued by (National Electoral Commission chairman Damian) Lubuva have your signatures. He (Judge Lubuva) spent less than 70 billion shillings to produce 22.7 million IDs. This other person spent 179.6 billion shillings and produced less than 2 million identity cards."

FEBRUARY 22, 2016

In an interview with The Guardian, Home Affairs Minister Charles Kitwanga defended the national IDs despite the missing signatures and said the government has no plans of recalling the 2 million or so ID cards that have already been issued to citizens.

Kitwanga described the national ID cards as "state-of-the-art technology," saying they have digital signatures of the holder and other personal information embedded inside, but require a smart-card detector and not a conventional barcode reader to access the personal details.

"The technology used to produce national ID cards is a very modern one ... most of our local banks are still using old technology," he said.

The Home Affairs minister insisted that more national ID cards based on the same system of invisible signatures would be produced to cover all Tanzanians.

FEBRUARY 25, 2016

The top management of NIDA told The Guardian in an interview that the new national ID cards were deliberately produced without visible handwritten signatures to make them widely usable and 'unforgeable', dismissing criticism that the card has a massive design flaw.

According to NIDA, the national ID is actually a "contactless smart card," with embedded integrated circuits that store important data about the holder and can be used in multiple applications.

The cards were actually more secure and accessible to most Tanzanians in part due to the missing handwritten signatures, NIDA officials have asserted amid growing criticism that the controversial national ID scheme may end up being a colossal waste of taxpayers' money.

According to NIDA's director of management information systems Paul Bwathondi, the cards have adopted state-of-the-art biometric authentication which is technologically far advanced and relatively forge-proof, compared to the conventional handwritten signatures used by other ID cards such as drivers' licenses and voters' cards.

“NIDA deliberately opted for biometric identification because the technology is credible and cost-effective, and many people could be reached with this type of technology,” Bwathondi said.

MARCH 2, 2016

NIDA's acting director general, Modestus Kipilimba, admitted to The Guardian in an interview that the current national ID cards are faulty because they lack signatures.

He said hand-written signatures of the card holder were common features in national ID cards of other countries, hence it was wrong for Tanzania's cards to be missing that important component.

“We want to ensure the national ID cards will now have the holder’s signature on the cards,” he said, adding that other features of the cards would remain the same.

On additional expenses required to print new national ID cards with signatires, Kipilimba said the government plans to minimize expenditures.

He said apart from 2.5 million IDs that have already been issued to citizens, there were an additional 3.5 million people who have already been registered for the identification.

Kipilimba, who was the Bank of Tanzania's (BoT) director of risk management before being moved to NIDA, said the authority would later announce procedures on how current holders of national ID cards will return their flawed identifications and be issued with new ones.

HOW THE NIDA BILLIONS WERE SPENT

According to NIDA officials, the biggest chunk of the 179.6 billion shillings spent in the national ID project was used to install infrastructures and purchase equipment.

Speaking to The Guardian in Dar es Salaam recently, NIDA’s director of management information systems, Paul Bwathondi, said that the contract worth $149.9 million was awarded to a Malaysian Company Iris for the implementation of the project.

He said that 128 billion has already been paid to Iris thus far and most of the money was used to purchase equipment and install infrastructure.

The Malaysian firm was contracted for procurement, supply, design, implementation, testing, maintenance, support and commissioning of the national ID system based on a modern smartcard technology.

The company was also required to construct a data centre and disaster recovery site, along with the required hardware and software, including an automated fingerprint identification system and services.

Bwathondi said that apart from the amount paid to Iris, another amount which he did not disclose was paid to a consultant and the remaining money was spent in NIDA’s operations, which includes registration of citizens and renting of buildings.

“NIDA has so far registered 6.5 million Tanzanians out of which 2.5 million have already been issued with the national IDs,” Bwathondi said.

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