The national ID is a key tool. It has helped Malawi track every name of employee on government payroll to prove their actual existence. This helped eliminate bogus names and only those who produced a national ID were reinstated. But the importance of digital identification is beyond busting ghost workers as our contributor THOKOZANI CHENJEZI finds out:
For many years, many Malawians have relied on identification (ID) documents such as passports, drivers’ license, employment IDs, and voter registration IDs to identify themselves.
These ID documents were paper-based, analogue and susceptible to forgery, fraud and identity theft.
A recent revelation of misappropriation of death gratuity by Chitipa District Council officials through forging identity documents can attest to it.
Shupikile Kamwela is a victim. A mother of four, whose husband died in 2016. She was supposed to receive death gratuity through the council.
“The director of finance at Chitipa District Council told me that my death gratuity was misappropriated by a female Council official,” says Kamwela.
Chitipa Police Station spokesperson Gladwell Simwaka confirmed the arrest of the council official, Lusibilo Mwenitete, who was charged with theft by servant for misappropriating K32 million of death gratuity.
But unlike in the past when people forged identity documents, digital identification has revolutionised many aspects of life in Malawi.
A joint World Bank Group, Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), and Secure Identity Alliance (SIA) discussion paper titled ‘Digital Identity: Towards Shared Principles for Public and Private Sector Cooperation’ defines digital identification as the process of validating a person’s attributes and characteristics, including uniqueness, in order to establish his or her digital identity.
Keith Metcalfe, a technology expert defines digital identity as a collection of features and characteristics associated with a uniquely identifiable individual—stored and authenticated in the digital sphere, and used for transactions, interactions and representation online.
According to the World Bank Group, GSMA and SIA paper, digital ID comprises a cycle that involves registration, issuance of credentials and authentication.
Registration involves capturing and recording key identity attributes from a person who claims an identity.
Credentials are tools that are issued to the individual and used to authenticate a digital ID. Examples of electronic credentials include smartcards, mobile IDs and barcode cards.
Authentication is the process of validating a person’s attributes characteristics and uniqueness, in order to establish his or her digital ID and can be done through PIN codes and scanning of the credentials.
The paper proposes that, for an ID to be considered digital, the ID credentials issued must be electronic, in the sense that they should store and communicate data electronically.
Digital ID in Malawi
The Malawi national ID is an example of a digital ID. It contains traditional information such as name, gender, date of birth, unique ID number, nationality, fingerprint image, facial image, signature image, date of issuance and expiry.
But unlike paper-based IDs, the national ID is digital in the sense that it also contains a quick response (QR) code and a machine readable zone which allows the information to be extracted electronically.
This means at a swipe of the card, all information about an ID holder is readily available, making verification easier, quicker and cheaper.
For example, voter registration and verification process per individual in Malawi reduced from 15 minutes to only 30 seconds since the electoral commission adopted the use of the national IDs. Extraction of details of registrants became a scan away.
The national ID has also initiated Malawians, who previously lacked legal IDs into the current digital financial world.
Mercy Mbewe, a secondhand clothes seller in Mzuzu and a mother of four, is among many Malawians for whom owning a legally accepted ID was far from possible.
Illiterate and without any formal employment, she lacked an ID document that would support her registration with a financial institution for banking and loan services to boost her business.
“So when the government conducted a mass national registration campaign in 2017, I quickly acquired a reference letter from our local chief and rushed to Chintheche registration center, near my home in Nkhata Bay where I got registered,” she says.
“Without any ID, I lacked that sense of belonging. I couldn’t identify myself beyond word of mouth even to my own government. But since I finally got my national ID in March, 2018, I have used it to open a mobile money account which I also use to receive my Ntukula Pakhomo [social cash transfer] money,” she testifies.
Energised with a quest to guarantee the fundamental right to identity and enjoyment of full citizenship for all Malawians, the Malawi government with funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) among other donors, conducted a mass national registration exercise in 2017.
National Registration Bureau (NRB) spokesperson Norman Fulatira says 9.9 million Malawians of 16-years-old and above now have a national ID, representing over 98 percent of the adult population.
Malawi is, hence, on the right track towards achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16.9 which strives to ensure the provision of a legal identity for all by 2030.
According to McKinsey Global Institute, out of the 7.6 billion people on earth, one billion people are estimated to lack any form of legally recognized form of ID, 3.4 billion people have some form of ID but with no digital trail, while 3.2 billion people have some form of ID and a digital trail.
Apart from using it to register for mobile money accounts, the national ID has also created job opportunities through people who work as mobile money agents.
Simon Chavula, a Mzuzu-based mobile money agent in both Airtel Money and TNM Mpamba started his business in 2008.
His business has since grown and now has seven employees managing his chain of mobile money agencies. He has even built three houses and bought a car.
“The requirement of the national ID for registration of mobile money has sanitised the business because every user is known. Now almost every common man is on mobile money hence financially inclusive and agents are everywhere providing employment,” says Chavula.
The central bank’s 2019 National Payments System (NPS) fourth quarter report shows that 6.2 million Malawians use mobile money and are served by 33 920 mobile money agents.
According to a McKinsey Global Institute 2009 report titled Digital Identification, a Tool to Inclusive Growth, digital ID could unlock economic value equivalent of three to 13 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2030 with emerging economies benefiting more, up to an average of six percent.
To minimise fraud in the financial industry, the Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) declared the national ID as the primary ID for all financial transactions, a move that saw a majority of institutions updating their Know Your Customer (KYC) client information.
This is because the national ID has provided a single source of legal identity truth of every registered Malawian, making it easy to track fraudsters.
Fulatira says all banks and mobile network operators have so far complied with the directive while some government departments and agencies like Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), the Immigration, department of Human Resource Management and Development have also linked up their services to the NRB.
“Linkages with security institutions are integral part of the NRB linkages plan. NRB will shortly commence discussions with these institutions to find the best way of collaboration in order to enhance the security of the country,” said Norman Fulatira, the NRB spokesperson.
What remains now is the private sector to invest in necessary digital ID card readers that could facilitate the electronic KYC and digital ID solutions by riding on Malawi’s fairly robust 4G internet connectivity.
In April, 2017, Malawi commissioned the $23 million China-funded Malawi National Fibre Backbone Project which is aimed at improving efficiency and connectivity in Malawi’s digitised systems.
The systems include the Civil Registry, the Integrated Financial Management Systems (IFMIS), Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS), Immigration and National Registration and Identification System (NRID), all which revolve around digital ID.
Speaking when he commissioned the project, Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika thanked the Chinese government, saying the project would help clean up the civil service by connecting the country’s human resource system which shall keep up to date data for genuine government employees.
In December 2019, government removed about 8 000 of its employees from its payroll for “failing to present their national IDs”.
The national ID was used to track every name of employee on government payroll to prove their actual existence. This helped eliminate bogus names and only those who produced a national ID were reinstated.
“Malawi will have improved delivery of services as various government offices will now be connected to an information super highway. With the fibre backbone project, we expect transformation in sectors such as national identity program, education, health and the finance,” said Mutharika.
Huawei Malawi country director, Wan Wei, whose company implemented the project told Malawi News Agency (Mana) recently that he was satisfied with skill transfer acceptance exhibited by Malawian engineers. “As a contractor, we are happy that Malawi is able to manage the projects on its own without a day-to-day involvement of us, showcasing that the skill transfers and training we provided bore fruit,” said Wan.—This work was produced as a result of a grant provided by the Africa-China Reporting Project managed by the Journalism Department of the University of Witwatersrand.