By Iommie Chiwalo
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has penned Parliamentary Committee Chairperson on defense and security to probe the secrecy and suspicious speedy conduct of National Registration Bureau (NRB) on features of National Identity cards.
In a letter addressed to Ralph Jooma and copied to United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country representative, CDEDI Executive Director Sylvester Namiwa says the secrecy and the speed at which the process is being done is raising eyebrows.
Namiwa says there are confirmed reports that Principal Secretary (PS) responsible for the NRB Mphatso Sambo is reportedly to have singlehandedly working with the UNDP’s consultant, working on the National Registration Identification System (NRIS) Project, who is also singlehandedly pushing for these changes.
The matter at hand is that CDEDI has learnt with regret about allegations that the NRB is reportedly geared at making drastic changes to the national Identity Cards (IDs) that will result in the removal of the micro-chip and expiry date for the card, on the pretext of cutting production costs, without consultations with the concerned stakeholders.
“It is against this background that CDEDI on behalf of well-meaning Malawians is calling upon your committee to invoke its oversight powers and summon the PS Sambo and the UNDP consultant to explain to Malawians why they have decided to bypass the country’s citizens on such an issue of national importance,” writes Namiwa in a letter.
He says the development is not only retrogressive, but it will also reduce the document into a useless plastic that will be susceptible to forgery.
Independent investigations carried out by CDEDI revealed that the UNDP consultant is on record to have convinced the Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) Commissioners at a meeting that was held in Lilongwe on January 27, 2023 that it was cheap to make the changes on the national IDs.
Both MEC and NRB spokespersons are yet to comment on the matter but it is in records that NRB has not publicly raised an alarm that the card is expensive in its current form, regardless of the fact that the department is well funded and that the ID card replacement and renewal is done at a fee, hence being self-sustaining.
Meanwhile, Malawians in different parts of the country have not hidden their frustration with the delays of replacing the expired national IDs which are initially designed as a smart card where the micro-chip contains encrypted information of fingerprints, photograph, signature and other security features on one hand, while the expiry date, besides being a requirement by law, that after ten years, it is necessary to update the photo to capture any changes in appearance and personal status, it also provides an opportunity to vet eligibility of the card holder.
“Last but not the least, the Malawi National ID card uses state of the art encryption drawn from global standards such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) that are also used in passports and other identification documents. In line with ICAO, all smart cards and travel documents must have an expiry date,” he highlights
Adding that the micro-chip and the expiry date are therefore very fundamental features that makes forgery extremely difficult.
Namiwa says that the Malawian ID in its current status has the capacity to be used as a health passport, travel document, electronic wallet on top of being an identification card.
“At this juncture CDEDI does not look at changing the features on the ID as a priority since the nation is riddled with serious challenges,”.