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Malawi’s biometric ID approaches total coverage, huge cost savings

Malawi’s biometric ID approaches total coverage, huge cost savings
 

From no national ID system in 2017, Malawi has now registered around 94 percent of its adult population and those not yet enrolled tend to be those who have recently turned 16 and have yet to sign up, according to government officials speaking in ID4Africa’s latest Livecast.

The system, coupled with a national KYC database and increasing mobile internet coverage, is unlocking significant savings and is propelling the Digital Malawi project, which aims to link every citizen and business to the government, say the guests. Even legislation is catching up.

“The savings are huge by linking other systems to the National Registration and Identification System,” says Mphatso Sambo, principal secretary, National Registration Bureau (NRB), which oversees the NRIS.

“The government of Malawi considers funding to the National Registration Bureau as an investment.”

The dedication has seen the country push beyond the 90 percent adult coverage rate achieved by 2020 to capture that harder-to-reach remaining ten percent. Almost 10.3 million of an eligible population of 10.9 million have been registered (a full break down is supplied in a document shared by ID4Africa).

The campaign, supported by the UNDP and other agencies, mobilized youth to head out with 2,000 biometric enrollment kits to register the population. Training continued for data cleaning, ID card production and issuance.

The effort has moved on to registering the under-16s and newborns. A homegrown electronic system is registering births in hospitals, issuing an ID number for life and allowing the local issuance of birth certificates, says Sambo.

The digital ID system and national eKYC database are delivering substantial savings. The Affordable Inputs Programme alone, for agricultural subsidies, saved US$8 million in the first year of linking. Payroll and pension links, voter ID as well as the issuing of e-permits will all deliver further savings according to Sambo.

Thelma Saiwa, from the Reserve Bank of Malawi (and Malawi’s ID4Africa Deputy Ambassador), also considers digital ID as an investment in efficiency and a way to increase financial inclusion.

From 19 percent of adults involved in the formal financial sector in 2013, the rate now stands at 46 percent against the current target of 55 percent. Saiwa says the target is 75 percent by 2026.

Malawi is putting in place data privacy and protection legislation, says Secretary to the President and Cabinet Colleen Zamba. The previous ICT policy expired in 2013 and politicians are currently finalizing a draft bill.

Identity is an essential component of Malawi’s long-term development plan, according to Zamba, who sees an inclusive legislative approach and investment as key to the success of Digital Malawi. The linking of subsidies and social protection to ID will allow better planning and help the country reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, said the secretary to the president.

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