EDITORIAL: Smart ID system

The biggest challenge that lies ahead is whether the  government will be able to maintain the security of the central data base system and privacy of all the citizens

If everything goes according to plan the government will finalise the bidding process for national identity cards, also known as biometric smart cards, within a month to come.

The Asian Development Bank is all set to provide a financial grant assistance of US$ 8 million to install equipment required for setting up the National ID Management Centre which will keep records of all the citizens who have obtained the biometric smart cards from their respective district administration offices.

According to the plan the smart card will have basic information about a Nepali citizen such as the date of birth, address, date and place of issuance of the biometric cards.

Those details will be inscribed in a barcode that can also be used to verify the concerned person whether s/he has ever been involved in any type of crime.

This smart card can also be used for election purposes, which means that the Election Commission will not have to issue another ID card simply for elections.

A salient feature of this card will be that a record of any Nepali citizen can be monitored from the centrally-controlled system, and it can also save a lot of time for the law enforcing agencies to track a person if s/he is found to have involved in criminal activities.

Although the Home Ministry had planned to call for a bid about six months ago, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee put the bidding process on the hold raising serious concern over the government decision to allow a foreign firm to prepare technical aspects of the National ID Management Centre.

The parliamentary panel had then argued that it would be inappropriate to let a foreign company prepare the ground for issuing the ID card and the state might have to compromise with the privacy of its citizens.

However, a PAC sub-panel cleared the air after five months of rigorous discussions with the officials concerned.

With the parliamentary committee giving the green signal to the Home Ministry the evaluation process of a bid will be completed within a month.

After a successful bidder is awarded the contract around 117,000 biometric smart cards will be issued to bonafide Nepali citizens under the first phase and replacement of all the ordinary citizenship certificates issued by the district administration offices will be carried out within five years to come.

Officials seem to be confident that there is little chance of tampering with the official document as it will all have “fingers’ prints” in it and nobody will be able to obtain passports misusing names and photos of other people as has been found in some cases.

The Department of Passport in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also be able to use the central data system to verify whether the information given by the concerned person while applying for a passport corresponds with the information obtained from the National ID Management Centre which can share its data base with other equally competent government agencies.

However, the biggest challenge that lies ahead is whether the government will be able to maintain the security of the central data base system and privacy of all the citizens.

Pay heed

The more remote the areas are, the less populated they are, and the more topographically difficult the areas are in Nepal, the more the people of those areas face difficulty in getting health services, even the most basic ones, like vaccination and delivery services. Among those districts which fall among this hapless lot is the Bajura district. News reports appear in the media from time to time for all sorts of difficulties that Bajura faces acute food shortages to the shortage of blood even for needy women in labour.

A three-year strategic health plan is reported to have been prepared to improve the health condition of the people of Bajura. For that, the plan, prepared by UNICEF and local partners, aims to make available several basic health services, including for women’s health, which often gets neglected in remote areas. But the main problem with the plans and programmes, whether at national or local level, in Nepal is that they are often poorly carried out. For example, the government had announced free health services nine years ago, but it has not been implemented in Bajura. The government’s coming annual policy and programme and National Budget should take into account the needs of districts like Bajura.