A single identification and an integrated database -The way forward for Ghana’s development

A single identification system and an integrated national database have been recognized by many countries as relevant for economic development for myriad number of reasons.

 A national identification system would be relevant for business, security, research, planning and development. For that matter, Ex- President Kufour must be commended for establishing the National Identification Authority (NIA) by an Act of Parliament, Act 707 (2006).

The mandate of the NIA is to establish a National Identification System (NIS) by creating a national database for Ghanaians and foreigners permanently resident in Ghana, issue national ID cards and promote the use of the national ID card. Of course, we must also acknowledge successive Presidents for not truncating the realization of these goals.

However, the pace of progress has been very slow and we have not seen sufficient commitment from government to expedite the creation of this national database and identification system.

The current National Economic Forum’s resolution that government should strengthen the capacity of the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) and other statistical reporting agencies to produce reliable and timely economic and social statistics is appropriate.

National databases and single identifications have been pivotal in the economic development of many developed nations as they invested heavily in consolidating them. The Danish Civil Registration System, popularly known as CPR, from which a national database was established is worth citing.  

This database was compiled as far back at 1968 and the CPR ID is a ten-digit number with the first six digits signifying your date of birth and the  last four digits are either even or odd number indicating female or male respectively (DDMMYY-SSSS).  The Danish database is so elaborate that it provides information on even IQ scores of students. This database attracts a number of researchers and students to Denmark.

The identification system is very relevant as many economic activities revolve around this number; one is required to give out this number in Hospitals, Banks, Schools, Hotels, Offices and in almost every economic activity.  Without this number it is basically impossible to live in Denmark.  

One of the relevance of the CPR ID is in the transport system, which is basically built on trust. In most trains and buses, one is not checked on entry, you are basically required to purchase a ticket on your own and the driver does not demand for this ticket on entry. Checks are done randomly, and if you are caught without a ticket all that is required of you is to produce your CPR number, and penalties and charges will be sent to you. There is no way, you can escape from paying the penalties because once CPR is recorded, all details concerning you can be found.  

The point to note here is that, a reliable national identification can even build trust in society, as citizens know for sure that; any fraudulent activity would not go unpunished. This Danish CPR can be an ideal model for Ghana. As a country we should be aspiring to get a comprehensive database and identification comparable to the Danish system although the settings may be different, especially in terms of the smaller Danish population.  The enormous benefits should compel us to create one.

Ghana’s quest to creating this database should not be too expensive as we have multiple organizations, who already are creating  smaller databases; the Electoral Commission (EC) through its voter registration, Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) through its issuance of passport, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) through Driver’s license and Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) through issuing SSNIT ID cards, Births and Deaths Registry issuing birth certificates and National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) issuing NHIS cards.

The unnecessary duplications in the Identification systems and the use of different IDs create red-tape and gives room for corruption. Thus, the recent call by President Mahama that all these agencies should coordinate and develop a single ID card is a step in the right direction. However, for the fact all these agencies are governmental institutions, of which the President has the sole prerogative of appointing their Advisory Boards, the onus will be on the President to make sure this goal of integration is achieved.

The existence of such database will provide insight for planning and formulating economic policies. Currently, we have no statistics on unemployment, hence, we cannot measure the impact of economic policies targeted to mitigating this economic problem. It is not far-fetched that the economic challenges we are facing currently as a country are partially traceable to non–availability of a single identification. The spiraling wage bill can be traced to multiple salary payments or the existence of ghost names on the government payroll.  

A single identification and reliable database would reduce this spiraling wage bill. I am aware that government implemented a biometric registration to stall this phenomenon of ghost names; however, the problem stills persist indicating the biometric exercise did not achieve its intended purpose. The low government revenue is also attributed to low tax revenue emanating from tax evasion by citizens.

This major economic challenge can be solved by this single integrated database as this will make tax evasion very difficult. This database will incorporate the informal sector which will ensure easy identification for their tax obligations. Another important benefit is that a single database that captures every Ghanaian and foreigner with biometric information will help in identifying crime as biometric figure prints will be available for National Security and Ghana Police in identifying criminals. The incessant electoral disputes and cost of voter registration will reduce drastically as the database to be used for voting will be collated from the national database with age limit and nationality used as criteria to select eligible voters by EC. There will be virtually no need for long voter queues for registration and the problem of double registration and minors registering will be eliminated.

The above benefits are not new discoveries but more importantly is how to implement this integration process efficiently and effectively. We have different governmental organizations (as mentioned above) already established who can implement this efficiently. These organizations should now be used mainly as data collection points, with a single data collection tool and software. Thus, NIA will not be the sole organization collecting data for national identification. All these organizations collecting data should be able to collect data on about 70% of Ghanaians, who voluntarily would be seeking the services of these organizations and the remaining 30%, can now be registered by NIA.

NIA should be the sole organization collating all datasets from the different collection points and producing an all-purpose single card. With the current sophisticated database management technology in the world managing this database should not be a hurdle.  This project is value for money, and it can generate funds to pay-back all the cost of investment so NIA should seek partnership from the private sector, especially the Banks, Insurance Companies, Credit bureaus, Telecommunication companies and tertiary institutions. Setting up this database will complement the SIM card registration thereby, making second SIM card registration exercise more efficient in identifying crime.

To insulate this project from suffering a similar fiasco that characterized the first SIM card registration, the necessary laws should be passed back by an act of Parliament requiring any Ghanaian engaging in any economic activity to have a national identification card. This legal framework should build upon the National Identity Register Act, 2008 (Act 750) which gives authorization for collection of personal and biometric data and must ensure the protection of privacy and personal information, however, information can be divulged appropriately to the public authorities and private individuals with a legitimate interest. 

Thus, this national identification card becomes a legal requirement for entry into schools, job markets and hospitals. To give this project the needed support devoid of any partisan politics, the government should transcend political appointments into the management of NIA as has been done in the cases of NHIS and National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO).

The writer is Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor, founder of CETAD Ghana (Centre for Trade Analysis and Development).