ID cards: Tanzania needs to change its laws

Published: 2/May/2009
Source: The East African

Reported by Mohamed Issa, Mike Mande and Wilfred Edwin

Tanzania is to amend its constitution to support the implementation of the National Identification Cards Project across both the mainland and Zanzibar.

The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania will be amended to enable people from both sides of the Union to have IDs.

A tradition of ballot initiatives and other expressions of direct democracy have made the Union’s constitution among the longest and most complicated in the world.

The Constitutional amendments, to be done this year, will follow the implementation of the $155 million National Identification Card Project.

The amendment exercise, which comes at a time of rising political tension over the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, will review all laws that may affect or be affected by the ID project.

Lawrence Masha, Minister for Home Affairs told The EastAfrican in Dar es Salaam last week, “We need to draft specific amendments to laws and regulations in order to make them consistent with the policies of the United Republic of Tanzania and to reflect current international and regional best practice on the issue of national IDs.”

The National Identification Authority (NIDA) is already seeking reputable local and international consultancy firms to identify key legal areas for harmonisation so as to enhance the effectiveness of the national ID management system.

Saleh Mubarak, Deputy Attorney General of Zanzibar, told The EastAfrican that it is too early to identify specific areas that will be subject to changes or improvements.

According to Mr Mubarak, Zanzibar is concerned about NIDA, saying the body should have been approved by Zanzibar to give it a mandate to operate in whole of Tanzania, on the mainland as well as in the semi-autonomous, Zanzibar. Zanzibar is reportedly already in the initial stages of forming its own authority to deal with national ID cards.

NIDA will be responsible for identification and registration of persons, management and maintenance of the persons register, provision of information from the register, overseeing mandatory usage of the ID cards and legal compliance and dispute resolution.

However, Prof Haroub Othman, a leading academician at the University of Dar es Salaam, said it is surprising that the government is going back to the drawing board on the ID issue even as the tendering process is in the final lap.

Prof Othman said it was appropriate for the government to seek consensus first before going into the process.

In January 2008, the government dismissed opposition demands for a new, “people-friendly” Constitution.

There have been five versions of the Constitution in Tanzania.

The first was adopted at Independence on December 9, 1961; then, exactly a year later, when the country became a republic, a new Constitution came into force.

There was also an interim Constitution of the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar 1964, the Interim Constitution of 1965, and the permanent Union Constitution of 1977.

Hamad Rashid Mohamed, an opposition Member of Parliament for the Civic United Front told The EastAfrican that the time was ripe for the Constitution to be subjected to “major surgery to get rid of longstanding.”

Mr Hamad said that the opposition would continue sensitising people on the importance of pressing for a new Constitution, adding, “”It is not true that the current Constitution fully meets the needs of the Tanzanian people; otherwise, why should a committee have been formed by the Speaker of the National Assembly to review it?”

According to Mr Hamad, an array of experts, including eminent scholars, have at various times detected deficiencies in the Constitution and recommended that it be overhauled to become more people-oriented.

The opposition parties are concerned that the Constitution now in use still suffers from a “single-party hangover,” saying it ought to have been overhauled soon after the reintroduction of multiparty politics in Tanzania in 1992.

The current Constitution, enacted by the Constituent Assembly in 1977, has been amended from time to time, up to June 30, 1995.

The first amendments were done in 1992 to pave way for formation of political parties.

It contains such provisions as right to work, to education and other pursuits, equality of human beings, equality before the law, the right to life and right to personal freedom.

Other provisions include the right to privacy and personal security, right of freedom of movement, the freedom of expression, right to freedom of religion and freedom of association among other basic human rights as enshrined in the African Human Rights Chapter.

The Constitution stipulates that every person is entitled to respect and protection of his person, the privacy of his own person, his family and his matrimonial life, and respect of his residence and private communications.

Some international legal experts believe that the national ID cards should be a de facto and not de jure institution — that is, they ought not to be obligatory for every citizen to procure.

Countries that have chosen to issue ID cards say they help protect people from identity fraud and theft, ensure that people are who they say they are, and tackle illegal employment and immigration abuse.

Another issue is the use of false and multiple identities by criminals and those involved in terrorist activity; ID cards are seen as a means to enhance national security, unmask potential terrorists, and guard against illegal immigrants.

They also ensure free public services are only used by those entitled to them, and enable easier access to those services.

National ID cards are in use in many countries around the world including most European countries, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Recently, the United States and the United Kingdom debated the merits of adopting national ID cards. The types of card, their functions, and privacy safeguards vary widely.

Themes: ID Documents and Passports
Regions: Tanzania
Year: 2009