Digital ID in Africa this week: Biometric ghost-busting, marbles and a digital census

Even more aspects of life will soon involve digital identification, especially for Ghanaians as the country prepares for its first digital census next year, election year. The controversy around the Ghana Electoral Commission’s deal with its biometric technology providers draws further reaction as the country extends its biometric passport system to its diaspora. And certain Nigerian pensioners are undergoing biometric verification which has found that a fifth of registered police pensioners were in fact ghosts.

Ghana: $84m first digital census to generate Ghana Card details

Ghana is to conduct its first digital census which will also provide address codes needed by residents to register for biometric Ghana Cards, according to VOA. Contracts for an estimated 65,000 tablets are still to be awarded.

This first digital census will be conducted in March 2020 via tablet devices with the aid of satellite imagery and is intended to capture the whole population after an estimated three percent were missed in 2010.

Part of the process will involve the generation of digital address codes. These codes are needed for registering for the national ID program, Ghana Card. Large population flows from rural to urban and poor to rich regions means many are currently without a usable address.

Some 60,000 collectors are already being contracted by the government but the country is still working with the UN to determine how to source the 65,000 tablets needed, according to VOA. Hiring devices from Kenya after its first digital census this year is one option being considered.

The Gambia: from marble voting to biometrics?

Mai Ahmed Fatty, leader of the Gambia Moral Congress party, former interior minister and special advisor to the president, has called for the country to give up its marbles-based voting system and move to biometric voter verification.

Speaking at the Constitutional Review Commission, he said an “election is about fairness and that there are many complications with the marble system of voting,” as reported by The Voice.

The marble system has been used in The Gambia since the 1960s and has previously been praised for its low cost and simple approach. Voters simply drop their marble ballot into the drum representing the candidate of their choice, explained here in the BBC video.

Other delegates at the commission called for a move to paper ballots. The Gambia already has a biometric ID system, Gambis, with contracts awarded to Belgium’s Semlex.

Ghana: Electoral commission contract woes stem from ‘lack of information’

Political scientist Prof. Edward Gyampo has gone on air to say that the electoral commission’s lack of control over voter data and biometric equipment operated by SuperTech Limited (STL) stems from a lack of information about the contract, as reported by My Joy.

The spat stems from commission chairperson Jean Mensa recently highlighting the commission’s lack of access to data and even data centers, and expensive kit maintenance contracts which prompted the commission to procure new kits instead.

As a guest on Adom FM’s Burning Issues show, Gyampo stressed that former commissioners should be held to account for the current situation: “The former officials may be able to give information as to why the STL deal is like what it is and if no proper meaning is made out of their explanation, then the deal can be abrogated because as of now, there is no information.”

The University of Ghana lecturer used the same appearance to help clear up the concerns that the commission and its registration exercises are skewed to benefit the sitting government: “The same device has won an election for both [governing] NPP and NDC and the same EC used it for limited registration in 47 districts.”

Nigeria & Zimbabwe: Biometric ghost-busting

Biometric testing has uncovered 4,000 ghost pensioners out of 20,000 police pensioners inherited by Nigeria’s Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD), according to Sun News.

The directorate is undergoing biometric testing of its pensioners who retired from government agencies in Edo and Delta states. PTAD’s executive secretary Sharon Ikeazor said: “When we took on police pension, we had over 20,000 pensioners on our payroll, by the time we concluded the verification, we got 16,000 pensioners and that is a lot of savings for government and the genuine pensioners were now being paid.”

She added that real pensioners who are verified by the checks will benefit from no longer having to travel to Abuja for physical presentations.

Meanwhile, Tanzanian president, Dr. John Magufuli paid a visit to Zimbabwe where he advised his counterpart, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, that biometrics are the best way to tackle the budget-bloating issue of ghost workers.

President Mnangagwa passed on the advice to his own Public Service Commission chairman, according to The Herald: “I would like to share with you the wisdom I received tonight from His Excellency… In Tanzania they fought the issue of ghost workers. They demanded everybody to go through biometric, so if you are a ghost worker you cannot come before a camera. And through that 34,000 ghost workers were in the service and were cleansed out through that method.”

Diaspora: Ghanaian biometric passports and Nigerian ID registration

Ghanaians living abroad will now be able to apply for biometric passports at six missions, in London, Berlin, Washington DC, New York, Pretoria and Abuja. A further 12 across the world have also been earmarked said the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shirley Ayorkor Botchway at a press conference, according to the government web site.

“In the long term, all Ghana Missions abroad will be made to process biometric passports with regional printing hubs located in various regions,” Botchway is quoted as saying.

Passport validity is also to be extended from 5 to 10 years. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ director of passports, Francis Danti Kotia, has also gone on Joy FM to say that almost all passports are processed on time: “in 99.9 percent of the cases, we are able to process applications in due time.”

Nigeria’s National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) has continued the rollout of its National Identity Database to nationals living in the U.S., starting May 28 in Washington DC and Texas, followed by New York City and Atlanta.

Biometric capture will be handled in collaboration with Thebez Global Resources Ltd, Defcon Systems Limited and National eAuthentication Limited (NeAL), acting as agents for the NIMC, according to Leadership.ng.

This follows the rollout to diaspora in South Africa, the UAE and UK. Registration is becoming compulsory for accessing other services such as buying land and applying for passports.

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