By Magezi Fred Kiriinjju
For the past few days, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) has been in the media over various concerns. After thorough thought, I felt maybe I should have something to say as an ordinary Ugandan who has used NIRA services before and will continue to use them for the coming years.
NIRA is a government agency under the ministry of Internal Affairs created by an Act of Parliament called THE REGISTRATION OF PERSONS ACT, 2015. The Act is intended to harmonise and consolidate the law on registration of persons; to provide for registration of individuals; to establish a national identification register; to establish a national registration and identification authority; to provide for the issue of national identification cards and aliens identification cards and for related matters.
So NIRA through the Registration of Persons ACT 2015 is mandated to create, manage, maintain and operate the National Identification Register to register citizens of Uganda, register non-citizens of Uganda who are lawfully resident in Uganda, register births and deaths, assign a unique national identification number to every person registered in the register, issue national identification cards and aliens identification cards, harmonise and incorporate into the register, where applicable, information from other databases in Government agencies relating to registration of persons, verify and authenticate information relating to the registration and identification of persons, collate information obtained under this Act and reproduce it as may be required from time to time, ensure the preservation, protection and security of any information or data collected, obtained, maintained or stored in the register and promote the use of national identification cards to advance the economic, political and social activities in the country. Unlike the passport or village identity card, a national identity card issued by NIRA is mandatory and cosidering that Uganda has over forty million citizens, its a huge task that requires technical manpower and a substancial budget.
The most important aspects of owning a national identity card from NIRA include travelling in the East African region without necessarily having a passport, the national ID is enough to move you around. Secondly, with a national ID, Ugandans nolonger need Local Council recommendations when processing passports, loans from banks, processing a driving permit and going through high security installations.
For a fact, I appreciate the good workings of Nira for it has helped in eliminating ghosts from government payrolls hence saving alot of tax payer money that formerly used to be paid to non-existing staff. More money has also been saved from Universal Primary Education funds since pupils from ages five to sixteen have been registered by NIRA and therefore, unscrupulous head teachers can nolonger create ghost pupils. This shows that through its works, NIRA has been at the front in the fight to combat corruption.
I would also love to take note of the public fact that NIRA synchronised the national IDs with the national voter register which has eliminated chances of inflating the number of voters hence ending vote rigging. The registration of birth and death of Ugandans provides accurate statistics of population trends that help in national planning, cause of death among citizens so government can find a remedy to that fatal problem, progress on child motarity rate and resolving family property confilcts after death of head of the house. Therefore the estblishment of NIRA is very necessary and should be appauded by all ugandans.
However, NIRA has had challenges when carrying out this mammoth and vital assignment because Ugandans initially responded poorly to the call to register and even when they finally came, they did so towards expiry of the deadline which constrained and stretched the staff and equipment to the limit. The amount of data involved is huge and needs careful sieving so as to produce 100% accutate information and this takes time and care.
Truth is that the budget given to NIRA is still small in relation to their mandate. In the financial year 2017/18, they were allocated 65.097bn which was reduced to 53bn in FY2018/19 despite the fact that more than half of Ugandans are not yet registered. Remember the wars in South Sudan and DR Congo have also increased the number of eliens in Uganda and all must be registered. A small budget comes with many sacrifices and one of those that NIRA has had to endure is under staffing. Considering that NIRA’s operations are data intensive, highly qualified staff are needed and these come at a cost since they will ask for better remuneration, the money NIRA doesnt have yet. NIRA has thereby been forced to improvise in order to carry on their mandate, you will find at most station afew District Information Technology Officers (DITO) acting as District Registration Officers (DRO) which strains the sorting process supposed to be carried out. To compound all these challenges, Ugandans whose cards are ready are not picking them which adds on storage costs since they have to be carefully stored.
Given the fact that NIRA’s mandate is of paramount importance to the country, government needs to revise its budget so that they can close the leaking gaps that are causing them to faulter to enable them serve the people of Uganda better. Infact given the prevailing circumstances, most especially on the issue of budget, I am not afraid to note that NIRA has so far performed beyond expectations.
Most of the criticism towards NIRA is actually not of their making but due to the constraints highlighted above. For the problem of extorting money from citizens, NIRA has made it categorically clear that no staff is allowed to pick money from Ugandans but banks. All staff are supposed to be identified by authority tags and if any staff asks for money, the following numbers are available to report incidents of bribery; 0702191919; 0772580673; 0772923643 and 0312119605. Let us help NIRA carry out their mandate which benefits us all.
The writer is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT & National Guidance.