From Lawra to Aflao, Half Assini to Bawku, all over Ghana people will queue for an identity. Every person, regardless of age, gender, socio-economic status will document his or her personal details including name, date of birth, and contact information into a single database. You will scan your fingertips and take a picture. This picture will be synced to a computer and in a matter of weeks or months you will have a national identification card.
The Ghanaian government wants to issue all 27+ million citizens with a unique identifier (UID) to enhance greater security and accountability for every individual. Each unique identification number will be associated with a biometric indicator to verify that anyone who has one is indeed who he or she claims to be.
In a country where many people lack certain official documents like birth certificates or passports-and several others who have no clue what their residential address is-this system will seek to streamline the provision of goods and services more efficiently.
So far the scheme is yet to take effect, hopefully by the end of year; however, it will pose challenges for the National Identification Authority (NIA) in charge on the one hand, and the various contractors who will be expected to build the software and run it on the other hand. They need to make sure that the data is error-free. They need to build a powerful data hub that will not neglect those in the informal sector.
They need to consider how to include Ghanaians living abroad and regularly update those who relocate. They need to figure out how to capture those whose fingerprints are marred. (Take a cue from those people whose fingerprints could just not be captured by the verification device in the December 2016 election).
When an individual registers, his or her biometric data must be cross-checked with everyone else’s to prevent duplication. As enrolments start, the system will need to process about tens of thousands of matches per day nationwide. This is a huge task which requires that the firms who are contracted to do the job do it with precision, speed and quality.
It is the aim of government to “improve services and ensure transparency in the governance process.” Biometric identification can hinder persons from taking undue advantage of the benefits of public sector programs by receiving welfare under multiple identities. With a more accurate national data of every individual, the government is able to properly allocate benefits and limit the possibility of officials from diverting state resources (see Niehaus and Sukhtankar, 2009).
For instance, when middlemen claim they have delivered so many bags of fertilisers and seedlings to farmers, it is difficult to tell if they are telling the truth. But if each farmer is required to scan his thumbprint each time he or she picks up a quantity to deliver, it will be hard to cheat the system. Similar controls could be applied to check passport voter and driver’s license fraud; hence, stressing the need to link these details to the UID.
Identifying people biometrically would also make financial transactions easier. For example, many public sector workers or trainees work so hard for a monthly salary or scheme that assures them an allowance over a period of time worked. When payment is due, the money is always welcome; however, the trip to the bank to collect is not always pleasant. The identification scheme could help such persons and many others to avoid this stress.
The plan could provide scanners to certain agents or vendors and link them to distant banks via mobile phones. You can walk in, scan your fingers and authorise the bank to transfer your money to the particular vendor or agent. The agent could then give you the money, minus a small fee (just like how mobile money is done conveniently).
Since the UID system will most likely be open source, as done in other countries, it will enable businesses to benefit immensely by integrating their own applications to it. With innovative apps on cell phones, hospitals could match patients to their nearest pharmacy or chemist to purchase their medicine or improve diagnosis when patients are transferred from one hospital to another.
Microfinance should also thrive by enabling people have greater control over small loans. This system can also help in education by making it easier to monitor teacher-student attendance, as well as student progress. Hence, it could reduce teacher absenteeism and track student performance even if the student transfers to another school.
Building and managing Ghana’s identification database must work (or at least be made to work) because it is a viable means of helping the government understand more about the population they serve. If the tremendous work of compiling a voter’s register by the Electoral Commission is anything to go by, this exercise is a challenge as huge as the country itself because it includes everybody. But it is one that is not insuperable with the right resources in place.
Niehaus, P., & Sukhtankar, S. (2013). Corruption dynamics: The golden goose effect. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 5(4), 230-269.
The writer can contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org