Malawi is the only country in the Sadc region that does not have national identity cards (IDs). This does not make it difficult to identify citizens, but the country becomes a haven for all kinds of people, including illegal immigrants.
An ID is a very important document. In countries such as South Africa and Zambia, you cannot vote, be employed, study at a tertiary institution, open an account or access certain services without an ID. Hence, when a person reaches the age of 16, they have to acquire a national identity card.
Government is now determined to roll out the ID projectin 2016 after decades of empty promises that started when UDF was in power.
As government prepares to issue 5 000 IDs, some issues need to be raised. An ID is a security document just like a passport. It should not be issued anyhow. It should be issued the same way as a passport. The information of the applicant should be verified by relevant authorities apart from parents or guardians vouching for beneficiaries.
Foreign nationals along the border would want to use their relatives on the Malawian side to acquire an ID. For example, very few people know that many Zambians sell their produce at Jenda Road Block on daily basis. And then there is an element of corruption whereby foreigners would want to get an ID through corrupt means either using ordinary Malawians or officials.
It is important that government takes precautions as it plans to issue IDs to avoid wrong people acquiring an ID. Foreign nationals should only be given IDs when they fulfill certain conditions. In many jurisdictions, foreign nationals only qualify for an ID if they live in the country continuously for five years. Actually, they apply and are required to produce other documents such as police report, medical report etc. So, government should not issue IDs to foreigners anyhow. Hence, government needs to be careful.
Again, government should understand that the issuing of IDs is an ongoing exercise. They do not need to outsource the work or to get the services of a contractor. They should not lose money unnecessarily. If they are unsure of how it is done, they can seek the services of Home Affairs officials from Zambia or South Africa. What is critical is for government to buy ID equipment and install in each district. So people will acquire IDs close to where they live. People in Chitipa will apply for an ID in Chitipa.It is not like a passport whereby people have to travel to other districts to access the service. It is a decentralised service. However, security checks (including finger prints) are mandatory.
It is imperative, therefore, that government should plan properly to avoid glitches. It is a huge exercise that requires both human and other resources. For example, it will be important for government to construct or expand Home Affairs offices across the country to accommodate million Malawians who will be acquiring IDs. n