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Lesotho national digital identity system within 200,000 of universal coverage, saving public money

Biometrics and digital ID

The World Bank has commended efforts by Lesotho, a landlocked country in Southern Africa, to implement an inclusive digital identity system.

With a database and management system built on biometric technology, Lesotho’s government has been able to document 85 percent of the 1.4 million population since the project began in 2013, well ahead of the Sub-Saharan African average of 71 percent, as of 2017 statistics. Birth registration lags somewhat behind the national digital ID system, however, with the births of just under half of children under 5 years old registered, as of 2018.

A drive for national digital identification, especially for those previously undocumented, has picked up pace in several countries. Trusted and inclusive identity systems have been shown to expand financial inclusion, improve access to safety nets, increase gender equality and boost economic opportunities as shown by a 2018 World Bank report by the World Bank. The World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative also recently published an update of its Principles for Good ID.

Lesotho’s Department of National ID and Civil Registry (NICR) partnered with three government ministries to invest in a mobile biometric registration kits in waterproof suitcases that included all the technology necessary to register citizens in remote communities in their own homes. This initiative is intended to reach the 200,000 people remaining without Lesotho’s national digital identity. A further 6,187 people became documented this way from June to October, 2020, with government staff traveling by horseback.

The Ministry of Public Services is now using the ID to verify the authenticity and liveness of civil servants and civil pensioners; while the Ministry of Finance is using the system to verify pensioners’ eligibility. A similar initiative was put in place for pensioners in India last year.

Lesotho’s programme is already generating fiscal savings, and the continuous efforts in the program will improve access to private sector financial services, while promoting public trust in government, the World Bank says.

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