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Cameroon moves to tackle hurdles impeding biometric IDs’ smooth issuance

Cameroon moves to tackle hurdles impeding biometric IDs’ smooth issuance

Cameroon’s general delegation for national security, the body charged with overseeing the issuance of biometrics-backed digital national identity cards for citizens as well as passports, has announced a number of measures intended to tackle the lingering problems plaguing the delivery process of the important documents.

Cameroon introduced biometric IDs in 2016 after penning a deal with Thales but citizens have since continued to express concerns about hiccups which, they say, are hampering the process of procuring the document.

While many have been crying foul over delays in obtaining the digital IDs, other applicants say the documents they apply for are never issued to them at all. It is the same problem with passports, as many Cameroonians confess they do not only spend huge sums of money to secure the document, but have to sometimes wait for months before their biometrics-enabled passports are ready.

Complaints relating to the procurement of these ID documents have been a bone of contention between the police service and citizens. The problem recently prompted an online protest — especially on Twitter with the hashtag #JeVeuxMaCNI (loosely translated in English as ‘I want my ID card’) — which saw hundreds of Cameroonians join in to call on authorities to take adequate measures aimed at fixing the problem.

On the heels of all of these calls and the online protest, Cameroon’s police boss, on January 8, issued a statement via his secretary general, explaining some of the reasons for the delays in the delivery of the biometric ID documents, and unveiled the new approach the police intend to adopt to handle the problem.

Soon 15k IDs to be produced daily

Reading the police boss’ statement at a press conference in Yaounde, the secretary general, Dominique Baya, said one of the moves is to increase the daily production capacity of the IDs from the current 10,000 per day to 15,000.

This, he however said, will begin shortly, when a major secondary production center for the documents will be opened in the northern city of Garoua to serve the country’s northern administrative regions. Cameroon’s three northern regions are highly populated.

The increase in daily production capacity, the official said, is also seen as one of the ways of making up for the limited number of ID document production centers in the country of 26 million people. There are currently just 280 centers nationwide, including 50 mobile units which serve mostly the urban population.

“Despite the slowdown in production of these IDs which is linked to technical difficulties, procedures and the delivery of production equipment, I want to assure that the process of producing the documents is still very active. There’s therefore no need for the blame game or political manipulation intended to whip up unpatriotic sentiments among Cameroonians…,” Baya said at the Yaounde presser in what looked like a parry of blame away from the police.

New deal for biometric passports production

Regarding passports, the police official noted that President Biya authorized the signing of a new deal recently concluded with Augentic in September.

Recall that the general delegation for national security had engaged Augentic for the production of biometric express passports for Cameroonians beginning in March this year.

Mr. Baya explained that the plan by the country is to henceforth have biometric passports produced within 48 hours.

The problem not just with the police

While promising to make sure that the IDs and passports are produced without major delays henceforth, the police official said citizens are also to blame for the delays because some of them present documents with conflicting information in the case of second-time applicants.

On this issue, the secretary general stated that the police was taking the necessary steps to ensure that the IDs are issued only to persons who present the correct information at identification centers.

He said apart from that problem, nearly 250,000 ID cards are lying fallow at various identification posts nationwide with their applicants nowhere to collect them. He used the opportunity to call on all those who have applied for the cards to stop at the identification centers where they did so, and look out for them.

The Cameroon digital ID card is an electronic and biometric identity document produced in credit card format and is capable of fighting fraud given that it is embedded with both visible and invisible security features, according to Thales. The card also has a high definition laser-engraved portrait of the holder built in it.

This post was updated at 12:24pm Eastern on January 18, 2021 to correct that Augentic is the new contractor for the project, not the contractor which has been replaced.

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