By Maria Jose, Resident Coordinator, United Nations Malawi
After the mass registration campaign of last year, more than 9 million Malawians now hold an identity card in their pockets. An established continuous registration system in all District Offices means that anyone turning 16 can also get their card.
The campaign was part of the Government’s efforts to guarantee the fundamental right to identity and the enjoyment of full citizenship for all Malawians. It also contributed towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9, which seeks to ensure the provision of legal identity for all by 2030.
There are many benefits of having a robust national identification system, one of which has been perfectly illustrated in this year’s voter registration for the 2019 Tripartite Elections currently underway.
‘All it takes is less than a minute to register to vote’, has been frequently heard throughout Malawi over the past few weeks. This is how fast the process of voter registration is, now that the national identity card is being used as the primary means of identification for eligible voters as compared to the average 15 minutes in the previous years. With a National ID card handy voter registration is now just a scan away!
This is just one of the many positive linkages that has been established between the voter registration system and the national identity card; creating a ‘One Person, One Identity, One Vote’ system that has made registration easy and has helped lower the cost compared to the previous elections. It is helping to prepare a voters list without multiple entries, inclusion or exclusion errors, ensuring that every eligible Malawian citizen is able to exercise their right to vote for the upcoming 2019 tripartite elections.
As the Chairperson for the Malawi Electoral Commission, Dr. Jane Asah puts it, “The voters’ roll in the past elections had been a problem. Voters were having transposed photographs, misspelt names, sometimes not found at all at the centre they registered, multiple registrations and the Commission in some cases inadvertently was also registering foreigners or the under-aged due to lack of proper identification system. With the electronic biometric voter registration, these problems will automatically be eliminated”.
As we have seen in other countries around the world, an effective national identification system opens doors to endless opportunities including the realization of political rights, women's empowerment, access to financial services and other social services for citizens.
The right to identity and nationality is embedded in the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. It is against this background that development partners including UNDP, DFID, the EU, Irish Aid, Government of Norway and USAID have all come together to support the Government to realise this goal for the people of Malawi.
To enhance the effectiveness of the national identity system, integration to other service provision institutions is vital, and Malawi has made considerable progress towards linking the national identity card to the different public, financial and social services available in the country. For example, the Reserve Bank of Malawi agreed to use the national identity card as the primary source of identification for the ‘Know Your Customer’ compliance in the country, which is an international agreement, practiced by finance institutions and other public companies to validate the identity of individuals to help prevent theft, fraud, money laundering or dealing with undesirable entities.
Malawi’s social benefits registry for programmes like cash transfers, social grants and other schemes targeting vulnerable individuals living in extreme poverty, are also now linked with the national identity system to ensure the effective targeting of social safety net programs and to control leakages of benefits. For the health sector, in addition to keeping record on the treatment provided to patients the linkage with the national identity system would ensure effective recording of vaccines to combat the smuggling of medicines to neighbouring countries.
Similarly, in the security sector, the integration would help to tighten the security of the country by recording border movements aimed at combating human trafficking and other security threats. Equally important for the public service sector, the linkage is helping to identify and eliminate the challenge of ghost workers and help strengthen public financial management.
A harmonised national identity system also offers confidence and more credibility for the individual using it as a means of verification which makes it easier to access services. Moreover, using one card for several transitions as opposed to carrying multiple types of cards for each service, it is simplifying processes whilst saving costs and time.
The ID card is playing a critical role in modernizing Malawi by linking citizens to services and favouring access to rights. The ambition to realize e-government in Malawi was ever closer; while it requires deeper efforts linked to connectivity, financial investment and legal frameworks the work of NRB and the Government of Malawi to date should be commended. All in all, as Malawi continues to progress towards a complete harmonisation of the national identity system, it remains clear that ‘One Identity’ card represents a win-win situation that is inclusive, innovative, and promotes the effectiveness and accountability of public and private institutions; all of which contributes to Malawi’s development aspirations