The need for a national identification system to ensure issuance of national identity cards to citizens or members of society was conceived several centuries ago. Lyon (2009) affirms the resolve of Europe’s modern state system to technologically identify citizens between 1400 and 1600.
The surge in global population and ease in migration across various continents bring in their wake social and economic challenges: such as civil and tribal conflicts, inadequate provision of infrastructural facilities, growing pressures on general public service delivery, terrorism, fraud, and crime, among others.
In contemporary societies across the globe, it is becoming increasingly paramount to identify and duly categorise the inhabitants of a country into citizens and non-citizens to help curb or prevent the foregoing socio-economic menace. Whitley and Hosein (2010) found unanimity among several governments across the globe to adapt and implement an identity policy to strategically stem the growing tide of global population increase on their respective economies.
A national identification system (NIS) refers to a technological device adapted and implemented by a government to ensure vital biographic and biometric data of citizens and non-citizens are collected and migrated into computer systems for analytical, planning and development purposes. Clarke (1994) notes the functionality of this system is to ensure the existence of a link between individual members of a given country and stream of data.
National identification systems generate identity cards for citizens and other nationals as may be determined within a given jurisdiction. Michael and Michael (2006) believe an identity card facilitates our identification of persons belonging to a particular group. A national identification system enables governments to issue unique identification numbers to their citizens and other nationals. This initiative expedites government-led programmes and interventions; and enables citizens to exercise their democratic franchise with relative ease.
In many modern states across the globe, members of society are obliged to have an identification card, so they can call themselves citizens and effectively participate in government-sponsored programmes and schemes. Islam, Baniamin and Rajib (2012) found significant improvements in the lives of citizens of many economies across the globe today, owing to the issuance of national identity cards by the latter to the former. Findings from Islam et al.’s (2012) study revealed better improvements in the lifestyles of citizens with national identity cards in the near and distant future. Lyon (2009) discovered a positive relationship between a national identity card derived from national identification system and social benefits such as improved well-being and protection against internal and external threats.
Forms of National Identification Systems
Generally, there are three categories of national identification systems. These include paper-based, readable plastic card, and smart integrated systems. The paper-based system involves extensive use of manual documentation with minimal reliance on computer and related technologies; the eventual card issued to holders may be in paper form. The cost of maintaining this system is low. However, it is highly prone to data forgery. The readable plastic card system is an improvement over the paper-based system. Because it has a plastic component, it is more durable than the paper-based card; it has a relatively high cost; and is susceptible to forgery.
The smart integrated system is the one that is in vogue; it is the system with broader functionality and high maintenance cost. However, the incidence of theft associated with the smart integrated system is relatively low. Based on its socio-economic effectiveness, usefulness and benefits, the smart integrated system was recommended for the Ghana National Identification Authority (NIA). When the Thai government was saddled with two major challenges – that is, social unrest in the southern part and increasing acts of terrorism in the country, it adapted and implemented the Smart Integrated System as a counter-terrorism tool (Kitiyadisai, 2004).
In Ghana, the idea of issuing national identity cards to citizens was first considered and implemented in 1973. The exercise was carried out mainly in the border regions, including the then Brong Ahafo Region, Northern Region, Volta Region, Upper East Region, Upper West Region, and some parts of the Western Region. After three years of implementation, the registration exercise was discontinued due to financial constraints and logistical challenges.
In 1987, the national identification project was revisited by the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) through the National Commission for Democracy (NCD). Various committees such as the Technical Implementation Committee were established to ensure continuation of the national identification project. However, actual implementation of the project suffered a setback due to financial constraints (NIA, n.d.b).
In 2001, a National Economic Dialogue was convened in Ghana. One of the major issues that formed an integral part of the dialogue was the need for a policy on national identification system. To ensure realisation of the foregoing objective, members of stakeholder organisations were drawn together to constitute a multi-sectoral Technical Committee. The committee was responsible for studying and reviewing the 1991 report on national identification; establishing the main principles and conceptual procedures for an integrated national identification system for Ghana; identifying and recommending specific technologies for such a system; and developing a plan of action and time-frame for implementation of the national identification system.
The Technical Committee completed its task and submitted a report to Cabinet for consideration and implementation in 2002. The report was accepted and formed the basis for the elected government and subsequent leadership of the country to ensure all citizens and non-citizens legally resident in the country are covered; assist in disaster management, welfare services, healthcare service delivery, and crime prevention; enhance public services delivery to targetted groups, social security, and banking services; improve drivers’ licences and passports application processes and acquisitions; and help to increase government revenue collection and mobilisation (NIA, n.d.a).
In 2003, the National Identification Authority was established under the Office of the Second President of the Fourth Republic, former President John Kofi Agyekum Kuffuor. The mandate of NIA was to issue national identity cards and manage the national identification system. In 2006, the National Identification Authority Act of 2006, Act 707, was passed to give NIA a legal backing. This Act is arranged into nineteen (19) sections.
To permit NIA collect biometric and personal data from citizens; and to ensure protection and privacy of same, the National Identity Register Act of 2008, Act 750 was passed into law on February 15, 2008. Act 750 is divided into two (2) parts (Part I and Part II), seventy-six (76) Sections, and three (3) Schedules. Part I covers forty-two (42) sections and Part II covers thirty-four (34) sections.
On February 20, 2012, the National Identity Register Regulations, L. 2111 was passed into law. This law is arranged into twenty-three (23) Regulations; and two Schedules. Regulations 1 through 3 and their sub-regulations explain the process for acquiring a national identity card, including eligibility and non-eligibility.
To ensure further provisions are made for conditions of and requirements for registration for national identity cards, mode of application for same, and requisite information to be provided by persons to whom national identity cards would be issued, among other important considerations, it was necessary for the Parliament of Ghana to amend the National Identity Register Act of 2008, Act 750. Amendments to Act 750 paved way for the National Identity Register (Amendment) Act of 2017, Act 950. This law received Presidential assent on December 4, 2017. It amends some key Sections and sub-sections in Act 750, including Sections 4, 7, 8, 22, and 27.
In view of the challenges likely to retard the progress of the National Identification Authority and ostensibly negate the overall national agenda of providing a uniform identity card for all citizens and non-citizens, and maintaining effective and reliable national identification system, the following recommendations were proffered.
It is imperative for staff of the National Identification Authority to be adequately resourced in terms of training and equipment to facilitate harmonisation and integration of all public data into one data warehouse. Further, functions of NIA must be effectively prioritised. For instance, data collection must not precede installation of data input system as witnessed in prior national identification exercises.
The present national identification system must effectively capture basic contact information such as electronic mail (e-mail) addresses and telephone numbers of registrants to facilitate their contact in future, should the need arise. The absence of this basic information in the previous national identification system affected, severely, the effective distribution of completed national identity cards to their rightful owners; millions of completed identity cards are locked up in the warehouse of the National Identification Authority because officials have difficulties contacting the owners.
The National Identification Authority could use mobile registration vans to help reach out to individuals in remote parts of the country. An individual’s fingerprints can be used as a unique identification in proxy for a missing or misplaced identity card. The new national identity card must be friendly to the visually-impaired; it must include a tactile feature to ease its usage by the visually-impaired.
NIA must ensure higher stakeholder and user agencies’ involvement in its quest to establish and maintain very reliable national identification system; and national identity register (NIR). Some stakeholders and user agencies include the Births and Deaths Registry, National Communications Authority (NCA), Chamber of Telecoms, Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), Passport Office, Bank of Ghana, commercial banks and other key financial institutions, Controller and Accountant General’s Department, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), the Police, National Security, National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA), Driver Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), National Population Authority (NPA), and others.
The National Identification Authority must ensure economic hiring and management of staff. That is, it must avoid hiring excess labor; and eliminate ghost names from the payroll to cut down its cost of operations, using modern identity management techniques. Under the National Identity Register Regulations of 2012, L. 2111, use of the Ghana Card is compulsory in all transactions requiring identification in Ghana. Therefore, it behoves the National Identification Authority to harness the requisite financial, technological, material, and human resources to ensure a national identity card is issued to all citizens within the stipulated time.
The Board and Management of the National Identification Authority must ensure value-for-money by adapting the right system for the registration process; they must ensure routine checks and maintenance of the system for prolonged lifespan and continuous operational efficiency. NIA must “cure” the national malaise of poor maintenance culture by taking proactive steps to periodically carryout maintenance on its equipment. The Authority must set the pace for renewed and good national maintenance culture for other government departments and agencies to follow.
Protection of citizens’ and non-citizens’ sensitive information must be of utmost concern to the National Identification Authority; sophisticated technology that could protect registrants’ data against hacking should be acquired and used by NIA. Further, NIA must ensure strict adherence to and implementation of the content of the Data Protection Act of 2012, Act 843 to assure the privacy of all registrants.
The National Identification Authority could employ sophisticated technological equipment or software such as blockchain, distributed hosting and authentication protocols to mitigate risks that may be inherent in its identification system. Moreover, services of technology experts from economies such as India with effective national identification system could be engaged, periodically, to enhance the technological expertise and capacity of Ghanaians who would be in-charge of the national identification system.
Cost to be incurred or already incurred in acquiring equipment for the national identification system must be economically meaningful to enable it pass post-administration audit and litmus test. Stated differently, cost of the equipment should not eventually result in act of willfully or inadvertently causing financial loss to the state.
Limited funding and delays in the release of funds as witnessed under previous managements of the National Identification Authority should not be encouraged under the current and future administrations; such financial bottlenecks could prove fatal to the success of the overall exercise. Budgetary allocations must be released on time; adequate funding for nationwide coverage must be provided by the government. It is hoped funds already sourced for the mass registration would meet the total cost of the entire exercise across the country. It is worth-emphasising that the National Identification Authority could take proactive steps to be a revenue-deriving body rather than cost-incurring institution.
The national identification system must be evaluated and assessed routinely for possible replacement in order to be constantly abreast of time and achieve the requisite statutory mandate. Current technologies of Ghana’s NIA must be compared with technologies employed by similar emerging or advanced economies for reliability, efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, the system must meet standards and certification of the International Standards Organisation (ISO), other relevant standard-setting bodies and credit rating agencies across the globe. In line with statutory requirements, the National Identification Authority must submit annual reports to Parliament through its sector ministry. The content of each report must outline the achievements, challenges; and medium-and long-term plans of the National Identification Authority.
The above write-up was extracted from an earlier publication entitled: “Formalizing Ghana’s Economy through an Implementation of National Identification System: Issues and Perspectives” by Ashley et al. (2019) in the International Journal of Innovative Research and Development.
The writer is a Chartered Economist/Business Consultant.
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