After the mass registration campaign of last year, over 9 million Malawians now hold identity cards. With continuous registration in all districts, anyone turning 16 can also get their card.
The campaign was part of government’s efforts to guarantee the fundamental right to identity and full citizenship for all Malawians. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9 seeks to ensure the provision of legal identity for all by 2030. It is against this background that development partners—including UNDP, DfID, the European Union, Irish Aid, Government of Norway and USAid—have come together to support the Government of Malawi.
There are many benefits of having a robust national identification system, as perfectly illustrated in the ongoing voter registration for the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
‘All it takes is less than a minute to register to vote’ has been frequently heard throughout the country. With a national ID card handy, voter registration is now just a scan away!
This is just one of the many positive linkages established between the voter registration system and the national identity card.
Creating a ‘One Person, One Identity, One Vote’ system has made registration easy and lowered the cost. It is helping to prepare a voters list without multiple entries, inclusion or exclusion errors.
As Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson 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, an effective national identification system opens doors to endless opportunities, including the realisation of political rights, women’s empowerment, access to financial services and other social services for citizens.
To enhance the effectiveness of the national identity system, integration to other service provision institutions is vital.
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, an international agreement for finance institutions and other public companies to validate the identity of individuals to prevent theft, fraud, money laundering or dealing with undesirable entities.
Malawi’s social 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 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 and combat the smuggling of medicines to neighbouring countries.
Similarly, the integration would help the country by recording border movements to combat human trafficking and other security threats.
For the public service sector, the linkage is helping to identify and eliminate ghost workers and strengthen public financial management.
Moreover, using one card for several transitions, instead of carrying multiple cards for each service, is simplifying processes while saving costs and time.
The ID card is playing a critical role in modernising Malawi by linking citizens to services and favouring access to rights.
The ambition to realise e-government in Malawi was ever closer. While it requires deeper efforts linked to connectivity, financial investment and legal frameworks, the work of National Registration Bureau (NRB) and the government should be commended.
As Malawi continues to progress towards a complete harmonisation of the national identity system, ‘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. n