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NADRA Chairman says digital ID crucial component for Pakistan’s innovation journey

Civil registration of children planned

Biometrics and digital ID

The Chairman of the National Database and Registration Authority of Pakistan (NADRA), Dr. Tariq Malik, says the organization is working to provide the national ID card as an important building block for a fully digital Pakistan.

Malik was speaking in an exchange with ID4Africa Executive Chairman Dr. Joseph Atick, as he shared insights on the digital identity experience of his country.

The nearly one-hour exchange between the two digital identity experts featured on the ‘To the point’ segment of ID4Africa Livecast Episode 21 in a series which brings together actors from the identity community.

“We believe that the journey towards digital Pakistan revolves around frictionless and seamless customer onboarding, citizen onboarding, and interaction with government ministries, departments and agencies, as well as private sector businesses. The digital ID initiative by NADRA is therefore the building block of digital Pakistan. We are getting there,” said Malik.

“Identity verification and online transactions will be performed in real-time using the NADRA digital ID platform. This will pave the way to open Pakistan’s market to e-commerce giants, and that’s the digital dividends of digital ID,” he added.

Malik said at the forefront of NADRA’s work is the desire to ensure the privacy and security of citizens’ data, as well as the push to innovate. While he worked on identity projects with the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program, Malik says, he came across many good digital identity practices which he wanted to see implemented in his home country, in order to make the country a champion of identification for development.

“My concern is security and ensuring that the privacy of citizens and their civil liberties are not compromised through misuse of data. So, we have lots of control of our system. Another issue that’s important to me is thinking about innovative solutions because innovation is the key to every digital identity system. Prosperity can only be achieved by innovation, and NADRA is the Government of Pakistan’s platform for innovation,” the NADRA boss stated.

Inclusion

Along with innovation, efforts to involve all categories of persons for the digital ID registration program are also of paramount import to NADRA.

Said Malik: “We are also focused on vulnerable communities where there is a registration gap. I have put in place a separate section within NADRA to oversee inclusive registration. One of the important pillars of my strategy is digital inclusion. This means universal coverage and accessibility. This doesn’t mean people coming to NADRA, but NADRA going to people’s door-steps to register them. The second pillar is the design framework, and the other is digital governance, where we are looking at digital infrastructure.”

The NADRA Chairman said they are also looking at ways through which they can reach the socially disadvantaged.

“Registration of women, special persons, transgender and gender-neutral persons is our goal, as well as making sure that all minorities are represented in the database. So we have opened incentive-based programs, meaning some social welfare programs for these communities are linked to the ID card,” Malik told Atick.

He added that NADRA is also working hard to “break down the barriers” to registration for the ID card. “For example, if vulnerable persons can’t come to NADRA, NADRA can go to them using registration vans. We are rolling out the mobile app so that the mobile phone can become NADRA office where people can provide their biometrics and get themselves registered. Also, the production of the first ID card is free for everybody, but specifically for women and special persons,” he explained.

Sustainable financing model

Malik also talked about how NADRA raises money to run its activities. He said although being a government agency, the body has since 2007 or so operated without any government budgetary support.

However, he noted that it has other means through which it sources for funds to run its services. Specifically, he said NADRA has its own businesses where it offers services to the Pakistani government and other foreign entities. This is how they bring in money to subsidize digital ID services for the poor and vulnerable, he said.

Registration of children expected soon

While NADRA has already registered over 95 percent of adult Pakistanis for the ID program, children are still out of the question. This could however soon change as there are plans to begin registration for this category of persons, revealed Malik.

“It was one of my goals when I accepted this assignment that we have to populate our civil register. Children have to be registered, which is not the case for now. We have a plan, I think from next month, to roll out child registration,” he disclosed.

On how this will play out, Malik stated: “We are working to launch an online Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system that will have a direct link with the national ID database so that the parents’ credentials are verified and authenticated. Also, we are working on a mobile application for CRVS to facilitate the collection of vital data of births and deaths directly from remote locations. The mobile app will be provided to health workers who will be visiting homes or hospitals to gather the information and directly transmit the data to NADRA.”

He added: “This is the work we are doing. It’s important to have a stronger foundational system in order to roll out the digital public goods. I have seen other countries like Estonia, Denmark, and South Korea where you can easily roll out digital public goods because they have very good foundational ID systems, and they both have the CRVS and ID systems working hand in hand.”

The second part of the Livecast (the i-On-Africa segment) looked at efforts made by Morocco and Lesotho in the development of their own digital ID systems.

The ID44Africa Livecast coincided with an announcement by the movement that it will be resuming in-person attendance for its annual general meeting next year in Morocco.

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