Parliament’s Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs is considering investigating a new firm contracted by the Government to print ‘smart’ and ‘digital’ national identity cards.
In 2018, government entered into a joint venture with Veridos, a German company to set up a printing facility for digital identity documents for a period of 15 years.
This comes after the expiry of the contract of Muhlbauer High Tech International, another German firm that was hired in 2010 to set up the ID printing system that is currently being used by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) to print national IDs.
While meeting officials from Muhlbauer High Tech International led by the firm’s Vice President, Matthias Karl Kohler, the defence committee Chairperson Rosemary Nyakikongoro, wondered why government is investing in new ID machinery yet there is one that is still operational.
“Why would government invest in this machinery, abandon it and go for another one? If they said Veridos is printing from here [in Uganda], do they have a factory here? So it is up to us [MPs] to get interested in finding out how far and how capable they are to do mass enrolment for the IDs,” Nyakikongoro said.
She said there is a need to look into the operations of the new firm to ensure they have the capacity to meet the needs of the government as far as mass enrolment, and printing of smart national IDs is concerned.
“We want services at the end of the day and if the smart ID is expensive, then why would we go for it yet we can upgrade the system and go for a cheaper one? We know our economy; so as a committee, we need to interest ourselves in the operations of Veridos because we have not interacted with them or even looked into what they have been doing since the time they won the contract,” she added.
According to Nyakikongoro, NIRA had complained that the printing system provided by Muhlbauer was inflexible and vendor-locked and this limited them from upgrading to a required standard.
However, Muhlbauer’s Karl Kohler denied the allegations before the committee, saying the system they handed to NIRA is open source with all the software for modification or upgrading.
He blamed the slow printing of national IDs on the lack of maintenance of the equipment.
“Since 2018, no maintenance has been done on those machines. Once those machines are not maintained and serviced then it is likely to delay the printing process,” Kohler said adding that the US$16 million machinery is not fully utilised and only operates at a capacity of about 50 per cent.
He added that before their contract expired, they were providing free maintenance services with a 100 per cent warranty on wear and tear.
Kohler also urged government to consider installing a data recovery and backup system to cater for any eventualities which could lead to permanent loss of citizens’ data.
Mubende Municipality Member of Parliament Bashir Lubega, called for an investigation into the possible conflict between NIRA and the former contractor, Muhlbauer which could hamper the effective implementation of the National Security Information System (NSIS) project.
“As a country, we need to investigate factors that underpin the discrepancies between these two entities because it seems we are being made to feast on lies from either side,” Lubega said.
According to Muhlbauer’s statistical report, by the end of 2015, about 90 per cent of Ugandans (16 years and above) had been enrolled for national IDs, and no other country in Africa had recorded such success.
By 2019, 26 million citizens had been enrolled and 17 million national IDs had been issued.