Unique ID essential for digitisation of State services

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023 01:55 | By

The digitisation of essential government services for the convenience of the public ranks high on the priorities of President William Ruto’s administration.

The creation of the State Department for Immigration and Citizen Services under the Ministry of Interior and National Administration attests to the President’s dedication.

The e-citizen platform will provide the framework to anchor the delivery of digital services. Already, several critical government services are accessed through this portal. They include application for documents related to Immigration, Civil Registration, marriage, driving, land transactions, businesses and the Kenya Revenue Authority services. 

Besides freeing the access and retrieval of important information from the tedium and limitations of physical locations and manual files, digitisation enables consolidation and integration of official records. 

This supports the creation and growth of an accurate, verifiable and reliable data that the government can deploy to inform and customise its social-economic planning.

Effective digitisation of official records will hinge on credible primary data. “Credibility” refers to the accuracy and timeliness of data capture and its compilation/transmission from and to authorised sources.

For instance, these could be records of the number of births in an area and within a stated period. 

Digitisation could further benefit from a standardized registration format. Adopting and enforcing a specific manner of capturing essential details will simplify the transmutation of data. Ideally, this will factor in precautions around forgery, duplication, personation and incorporate features to enhance data security. It should also be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity for official capture of citizens’ details.

These considerations underpin the proposed Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) that will be issued at birth. The UPI, that is subject to government approval, will be issued to new-borns who merit citizenship. 

In compliance with the Births and Deaths Registration Act, it will also be adopted for children born outside the country to Kenyan citizens and who are eligible for  citizenship.

Kenya has made huge strides in the registration of births. Official records reveal that 86.2 per cent of all births were captured in 2021. The birth registration stage is therefore an attractive genesis for foundation data. Essentially, the UPI will be the birth certificate number. As the name implies, it will be a personalised reference detail akin to the current Identity Card number.

Where death occurs, UPI will also serve as the death certificate number. This could be an important means to bridging the current documentation deficit and enhancing the accuracy of official mortality records. In 2021 for instance, only 55.4 per cent of deaths were reported. High unreported deaths are undesirable for many reasons. Besides inflating population figures, they could abet identity theft crimes and manipulation of numbers in elections.

Between the cradle and the grave, UPI can also be adopted as the official reference for a host of other services that currently demand separate identity. It can be used as school’s admission number as well as the index number for national examinations. UPI can serve as the ID number on attaining 18 years, the registration number for National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), National Social Security Fund (NSSF) and the Driving License Number.

With UPI, multiple registration of citizens will be eliminated. Various State agencies that are currently engaged in separate registrations can then be collapsed to free personnel, finances and other scarce resources to other needs. It will obviate different registration numbers and hasten the generation of a clear, integrated and harmonised register.

The UPI will also advance equality and fairness in access to services. 

An obvious question is how different UPI will be from Huduma Namba. Whereas the latter sought to register citizens afresh under a different system, UPI will repurpose an existing and continuous exercise. Nurses and other medical personnel in maternity facilities will continue to undertake registration while assistant chiefs will register community births. By targeting a smaller scale and riding on existing laws and enforcement infrastructure, the government hopes UPI can avoid the pitfalls that befell Huduma Namba.

Instructively, some of the legal minefields that handicapped Huduma Namba that are relevant to UPI have since been addressed. The Data Protection Act of 2019 and the Office of the Data Commissioner have been enacted and institutionalised to allay concerns about data security and integrity.

—The writer is the PS for Immigration and Citizen Services

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