A civil society report on the National Identity project has warned that the project launched in 2014 has become a surveillance tool for the state.
The report claims that a section of citizens without national identity cards have been denied services six years after the project was launched with good intention.
The preliminary report titled; Uganda’s Digital ID system: A cocktail of Discrimination, launched in December 2020, says the national ID project has become a surveillance tool for the state and non-state actors, for who to “include” and “exclude” depending on political, social and economic aspects putting many citizens in a state of denial to vital services.
The survey bankrolled by Digital Human Rights Civil Society Organization and Unwanted Witness was conducted last year in Kampala, Wakiso and Kasese.
It found that 85 per cent of the 76 respondents (53% male, 47% female) had been denied a public service, and 70% denied a private service including healthcare, mosquito nets, access to agricultural inputs such as seedlings, piglets, SIM card registration, banking services due to a lack of the national ID commonly known as “Ndaga Muntu.”
Whereas in February 2020, the new board chairperson of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), James Biribonwa promised unprecedented efficiency in obtaining and issuance of National IDs, the report reveals that the process is still cumbersome, riddled with understaffing, inefficiencies, corruption and bribery.
For example out of the 76 residents, only four got their national IDs within the stipulated three months and only two received their IDs after six months. A total of 67 had not received their national IDs within three months while 25 per cent had to pay bribes ranging from Shs 10,000 to Shs 70,000 especially if they needed an ID to get a bank loan, passport for travel or a job.
“I have hit a dead stop even before starting my journey. I can’t do anything without a national ID. My [Uganda] bank accounts were frozen because I’ve no mobile number registered in my names,” Abu Mzee wrote on Twitter on December 7, 2020.
At Buhehe Health Centre III in the eastern district of Busia, patients have severally complained about being denied healthcare services due to lack of national identity cards.
Dr Florence Mugala, the in-charge at Buhehe health center III, told URN recently that they turn away patients without national identity cards because the national Health Management System (HMS) requires health workers to capture the national identification number (NIN) of patients visiting the health facility.
Mugala said that from February 2020, all patients seeking medical services must present their national ID or an introductory letter from their area local council chairperson indicating the status of their citizenship. Robert Muchondi, who escorted his pregnant wife to the facility, recently, said they were denied antenatal services because she didn’t have a national ID.
“Accessing health care services on condition that one must have a national ID is an abuse of fundamental human rights. Article 22 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda states that ‘We all have the right to life, which must not be taken away except through a death sentence passed and confirmed by a competent court’ and making the National ID a requirement to access health services creates more exclusion and discrimination violating Article 21 of the Uganda Constitution,” the report reads in part.
Adding: “For SIM card registration and verification it was compulsory for Ugandans to present the national ID as the only recognized identification document. This restrictive requirement denied those without national IDs mobile phone services such as mobile money banking, this was not only discriminatory but led to the violation of economic rights of those whose livelihoods depended on this service. This also defeats the purpose for which the Anti-money laundering law was enacted whose goal of “Know Your Customer” is crippled because people who are denied these services resorted to using other people’s national IDs to register increasing cases of impersonation, fraud and high organized crime rates.”
Indeed, the national ID has not only prevented further fraud, it has further been used to propagate online crime. Last year, telecom giants MTN Uganda and Airtel allegedly lost in excess of over Shs 10 billion each after fraudsters cloned over 2,000 SIM cards using national ID data abandoned at a photocopy kiosk. The cloned SIM cards were then used to withdraw money from different parts of the country.
NO TAGGING SERVICES TO IDS
Internationally, several courts have ruled against tagging both public and private services to national rights, saying human rights and privacy reign supreme over data collections.
In November last year, Kenya’s High court ordered government to suspend its Huduma Namba cards (one single source of truth) that captured the bearer’s National Health Insurance Fund, Kenya Revenue Authority, the National Social Security Fund and national ID details.
The cards were meant to replace national IDs starting December 2021 that would be used to access government services. The cards would be picked within one month after receiving an SMS notification, the Interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i said.
“There is an enemy called the file which we are trying to get rid of in public service. The days of lost files, long queues and wastage of time instead of providing efficient service to citizens will be a thing of the past,” Kenya’s Interior cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i was quoted by The Standard.
In a case filed by the Nubian Rights Forum, the Kenyan High court nullified the Miscellaneous Amendment Act 2018 that operationalised Huduma Namba and ruled that it violates citizen’s right to privacy, equality, non-discrimination and public participation.
The court further warned the government of Kenya against tagging service provision to the national ID. At the time of the High court ruling at least 37.7 million Kenyans had already registered for the cards.
Similarly, in India, the Supreme court in New Delhi in 2018 barred private entities such as banks, SIM card registration against using the Aadhaar card which captures citizen details including iris scan, photograph and fingerprints for KYC (know your customer) authentications purposes.