Opinion: The GhanaCard Gamble; A case of chasing the wind.

Guest Contributor, Shormeh Dowuona writes about the introduction and controversy surrounding the issuance of Ghana’s quick smart National ID card, GhanaCard.

One way to think about the now controversial National Identity Card project is to ask what would happen if we can’t find the US$115 million that the National Identification Authority (NIA) is seeking, to enable it to build a robust National ID System based on international standards. Does it mean we can’t have the Ghanacard?

The smart Ghanacard should ultimately link every Ghanaian to key agencies, including the Births and Deaths Registries, the Department of Social Welfare, Passport Office, Electoral Commission, Statistics Department, Social Security and National Insurance, Immigration, Driver and the Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), among a host of others, using the national identification number as a common identifier.

Earlier last week, the World Bank revealed that it had, as of September 26, 2013, provided US$97 million for Ghana’s e-Transform Project – Including US$29.15 million that “will provide support to develop a robust national identification system based on international standards to help prepare Ghana for a modern e-commerce industry, improved e-government services, and alleviate poverty.

This revelation has caused heightened consternation about the NIA’s recent moves since the World Bank’s programme seems to address similar challenges that the Authority claims are the justification for contracting a China Exim bank loan to enable it to pursue its agenda.

GhanaCard and National Identification Authority

The narrative, so far, is that the NIA has, under dubious circumstances, sourced US$115 million from the China Export-Import Bank after a Ghanaian delegation visited Shanghai, in May 2012, and entered into an agreement with the China Integrated Circuit Design Corporation Limited (CIDC) to undertake the upgrade of Ghana’s National ID project, which will mean scrapping millions of registered data in the NIA’s archive for which over US$ 20 million has already been expended.

The World Bank’s release stated that the project will assist the government to link key agencies, including the Births and Deaths Registries, the Department of Social Welfare, Electoral Commission, Statistics Department, Social Security and National Insurance, Immigration, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), etc., using the national identification number as a common identifier.

Details include US$21.45 million in support for a National Electronic ID System. The National ID system, which in its current form with a 2D Bar code, has limitations in terms of durability and ability to store information and does not also conform to some of the specifications provided by international organizations such as ICAO, ISO and ANSI, and this prevents a number of potential user agencies, including the financial institutions, from using the current ID card, the Ghanacard.

The World Bank project even has a sub-component to support the government to complete the implementation and deployment of a well-functioning national electronic ID system, including the distribution of 12 million biometric cards. This will include the three million cards that have already been printed and nine million more that will be printed, once citizen data is confirmed.

Civil society has, not unexpectedly, vehemently kicked against the NIA’s move, characterizing it as wasteful, not to mention the opportunity it presents for corruption given that the Authority has not accounted for the earlier project that it is seeking to scrap.

Under the earlier project, NIA is purported to have registered citizens in seven of the country’s 10 regions with the three northern regions being the outstanding ones. The distribution of completed ID cards has been nothing but slapdash, prompting Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to appeal to the government not to allow the NIA to have its way.

Obviously, the wager is clearly defined. The Ghanacard is indispensable to Ghana’s development if it is to benefit from its growing economy that has attained lower-middle-income status.

The NIA holds that its objective of providing the country with an ID card that is effective and efficient can only be realized at a fresh cost of US$115 million – this is demonstrated by its spirited, but sometimes unconvincing, response to every issue raised by CSOs, who in turn hold that the NIA’s move amounts to nothing but a scam; one that seeks to cover up its bankrupt thinking on the deployment of modern technology, as well as, managing the process of registering citizens and distributing completed cards among them.

If the World Bank’s bet of US$29.15 million for the delivery of the same quality Ghanacard is anything to go by, then government, which obviously is the game master, has a role that goes beyond the traditional role-playing game of weaving the participants’ player-character stories together, controlling the non-player aspects of the game, and creating an environment in which the players can interact, and solve any player disputes.

A government already embroiled in a controversy with its benefactor, the IMF, over the proper definition of its indebtedness as a proportion of its total annual domestic economic output will obviously not want to further worsen its plight, especially as its benefactor’s twin sister is offering the Ghanacard at a far cheaper cost.

The President, John Mahama, is reported to have directed that the NIA loan proposal be put on hold to allow for a thorough assessment of its properness. The jury is still out but, increasingly, it is looking like the NIA who in chasing the wind, will reap the whirlwind.

Credit: Ghana Graphic Business