NATIONAL IDS, A SOLUTION TO MALAWI’S PROBLEMS

On one Wednesday morning in the month of June this year, I met a young lady, Martha Phiri outside the Capital City Branch of the National Bank of Malawi in Lilongwe. Martha, probably in her early 20s stood motionless and shaking her head looking more confused.  Asked about her problem, Martha indicated, “I wanted to open a bank account in order to easily access funds from my cousin who stays in Blantyre”.  The bank could not assist her because she had no identity to authenticate her status.  Martha had lost her voter’s ID that she used as an identity for so long.

Many a Malawian are in Martha’s predicament not by choice but because the country is currently not issuing national identity cards. Malawians just like Martha are struggling to access financial services not only from banks but financial institutions as a whole.

 

To begin with, Malawi is the only country in the sub Saharan Africa which has not yet fully implemented the national registration system. So far, the country from 1st August, 2015 introduced the universal and compulsory birth and death registration which has led to the National Registration Bureau (NRB), an institution mandated to issue identification documents in the country, assuming the role of issuing birth and death certificates to the citizenry. In terms of the National Identity Card, NRB is expected to pilot the project any time between December, 2015 and February, 2016 before rolling the exercise to the entire country at a time to be announced later in 2016.

In the absence of the national ID, Malawians will continue to use other forms of documents such as passports, driver’s licence, the voter’s card just as in Martha’s situation, and many others. But these documents cannot surpass a national ID, the only document offering the positive identification of every individual in the country.

In line with offering positive identification, the national ID enhances national and international security. With the national ID project fully implemented, it will be easier to trace foreigners thereby enhancing security of the country.  Let’s take for example at present, a Zambian national traveling from Chipata all the way to Malawi’s lakeshore district of Salima and back to Zambia. Chances are high that while traveling within Malawi, law enforcers may not ask him or her their nationality because in any case Malawians and Zambians are similar.  This is not good for our security.  With national IDs in place, this problem will certainly be eradicated.

Think of elections for a moment. You will note that for a country like Malawi to conduct elections, it requires the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) to have more time and financial resources particularly to register the voters not only once but in phases. With national IDs in place in Malawi, MEC will depend on the National Population Register created by NRB to conduct a voter’s verification exercise.  This will in turn reduce time of preparing for the elections and cost of conducting the registration.  As a matter of fact, all government institutions will be able to draw and verify from the National Population Register a list of beneficiaries for their respective projects be it the farm input subsidy programme, the passport system etc.

Let us talk about the issue of drug shortages in the country’s hospitals and health facilities.  It is only through implementing the national ID system that this problem will come to an end.  What we are saying is that foreign nationals will not get treatment from Malawi’s health facilities but that in the presence of an identification system, authorities will put in place deliberate policies to deal with foreign nationals in health facilities.  For instance, introducing paying facilities for foreign nationals.

Not only is the national ID a product of NRB, birth and death certificates are also outputs of the National Registration and Identification System (NRIS) as it is called in Malawi.

The benefit of birth certificate is that it is the first legal document that gives a child a name, age and nationality, very critical attributes if a country is to protect its children against any forms of abuses.  Cases of child labour, trafficking and marriages can only be halted if a country has a robust birth registration system.  On the other hand, death certificates help the deceased access the estate of their departed relative, a privilege that most Malawians have difficulty to enjoy.

Malawians should be proud therefore to learn that the country has accelerated its efforts to fully implement the National Registration and Identification system in the nearest possible time.  In her remarks when she toured NRB offices in September, 2015, Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Mrs. Jean Kalilani toured emphasised that the government of Malawi is now committed to see the NRIS implemented. “For the first time since NRB was established, government has allocated MK1.5 billion for the establishment of the production centre for the national IDs,” the minister indicated.

So far, NRB is finalizing the procurement of the equipment for the national ID production centre and very shortly will announce as to how and when the pilot exercise will be conducted.  Malawians should however, take note that the national ID is not the panacea to all the problems the country is facing.

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