The National, Friday July 19th, 2013
FORMAL identification is a step towards development in the modern world.
The inability to answer the questions “who are you?” and “are you who you claim to be?” is a growing concern for many people in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
Work ID cards and certificates of birth, death and marriage are forms of formal identification.
In future, the right to enrol in schools or be included in the electoral roll and to seek health services as well as formal employment will progressively require formal identity documentation.
Unfortunately, many Papua New Guineans do not have such documents to prove their identities.
The national electronic identification (e-ID) card system aims to close this gap.
At a personal level, this database will prevent identity theft.
More importantly, the e-ID card will provide identity verification for employment, opening a new bank account and using electronic travel ticketing.
The e-ID card becomes formal identification and will be universally acceptable.
Experiences from other countries show that people enrolled in a national population database are issued with a unique number that is linked to only one individual.
This unique number is linked to his personal information and no one else can use his identity.
This is one way of reducing widespread corruption at the lowest level.
Generally, the national e-ID card system will address the lack of a secure, simple and universal method for citizen identification.
When the national e-ID system is fully established and is in operation, PNG will own a live centralised database of all its citizens.
This will reduce the duplication of resources in data collection by various government agencies.
However, it is important that the e-ID is standardised rather than a one-off process.
The national e-ID card system is the identification service that will facilitate requirements for the government and private service providers.
For example, information from the Population Information Management System or Pims will help the Electoral Commission to check and verify voting population data as there is an increasing demand for inclusion in the electoral roll.
Health planners will also be able to use the data to plan for immunisation programmes so that all females between the ages of 15 and 45 can receive life-saving vaccinations.
The aim is to enrol every citizen in a computerised national population database, or Pims.
Pims will contain the identity information for all living citizens who will each receive an e-ID card.
The card will contain a photograph of the holder linked to biometric fingerprint scans as well as individual information.
A person’s identity includes name, address, date of birth, gender, and parent/guardian details.
This is a development-driven project which will support the government’s electronic governance system (e-governance).
E-governance is the linking of all national databases.
Only authorised groups can trace information in all relevant databases kept by the government.
Although a number of electronic government databases exist, they are not linked in any way.
The system that must support an individual’s formal identification is the civil registration system.
The registration of events such as births, deaths and marriages form an important database that can assist government and private entities.
However, this government programme registers only a fraction of the population, for example, those employed in the formal workforce with issued work ID cards.
The identity gap between those with formal identity and those with no formal identification is increasingly recognised as not only a sign of underdevelopment but as a factor in making development more difficult and less inclusive.
To help people without formal identification documents, there are programmes in PNG that provide individuals with some official identity in the context of delivery of a particular service.
The PNG telecommunications sector has introduced a system of cash transfer via mobile phones.
Banks have also introduced banking services for their customers that do not need identification produced.
Currently no fees are charged for the initiative but it is likely that in the long run, administration fees for such services will be imposed.
The e-ID card system is important for the people as it will be free and beneficial in many ways.
Additionally, the national e-ID card system is a tool for development planning and service delivery.
The government and the other partners must work together to strengthen the ongoing e-ID card system once it is established.
By supporting the system, the ID cards issued from the national e-ID card system will eliminate the different requirements demanded by various government and private agencies.
However, privacy protection is a priority in building the foundation of Pims so that an individual’s identity is protected.
Citizens will provide personal information and it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard such information.
Mass disclosure of information must remain strictly confined to only authorised groups.
An individual can exercise discretion and disallow the disclosure of personal information for certain purposes.
The introduction of a national e-ID system with the government as the identity service provider will be of great value to the nation.
It is planning to introduce this system despite the challenge of many unhappy people who have not benefited from basic services.
But the current government’s approach of increasing funding to sub-national levels is an indication of improved provisions of services.
The cooperation and support of the sub-national level governments and are essential in creating the national e-ID system.
- Esther Lavu is a Research Fellow and leader of the Population Research programme at the National Research Institute.