Source: World Bank
In today’s digital age, robust, inclusive, and responsible civil registration and identification systems play important roles in providing citizens with a legal identity and generating vital and demographic statistics. Universal coverage of these systems improves the accessibility, integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency of public and private services. Experience in Estonia, India, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and other countries has shown that an effective national identification system can accelerate progress in addressing key development and governance challenges, such as financial inclusion, universal health care coverage, and digitizing and integrating services in the public and private sectors.
The ID4D diagnostic was undertaken between November 2017 and June 2018 at a request from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Government of Uganda under the umbrella of the World Bank’s Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative. This work was done with excellent collaboration from NIRA’s management and personnel. Its objective was to analyze the identification ecosystem in Uganda, highlight strengths and achievements, suggest areas of improvement, and build consensus around recommendations and next steps. This was done through in-person interviews with over 40 government and private stakeholders, a field visit, and a literature review.
Draft findings and recommendations were presented at a consultation workshop in August 2018, attended by over 50 experts representing 30 government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) and private sector organizations. Feedback from the workshop is reflected in the report.
Unrivaled and Successful Launch of the National Identity Card
Launched in 2014 as the ‘National Security Information System’ (NSIS) project, the national identification system was developed under a multi-sectoral approach (including the EC, URSB, NITA-U, UBOS, DCIC, and Security Agencies, among others) that was partly driven by the decision to use the national identification card (NID) as the unique identifier for the 2016 election. This multi-sectoral effort led to 16.5 million citizens registered in a mass registration drive.
Since 2014, the rollout of the NID has brought about profound change in a country where, according to the national census of 2014, only 8 percent of the population had a long-form birth certificate to prove their legal identity. In 2015, a new law, the Registration of Persons Act (ROPA), and a new organization, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) changed the approach to identification in Uganda. Prior to the rollout of the NID, about 75 percent of adults may have had a voter ID as a substitute official ID.2 For those without voter ID, a short- or long-form birth certificate or a Local Council Chief letter were required as proof of identity. By the end of 2015, approximately 90 percent of Ugandans 16 years or older were enrolled in the National Identification Register (NIR). No other country in Africa has issued their first or new national ID more quickly than Uganda.
So far, two registration campaigns have been conducted to populate the NIR. The 2014/15 campaign enrolled 16.5 million Ugandans in the NIR. The second campaign targeted about 10 million learners in school, ages five years and above, in primary, secondary, and post primary institutions. Those over 16 were issued IDs during this exercise. Outside these campaigns, NIRA has continued to register persons at its 117 district offices and, to date, approximately 26 million persons have been enrolled in the NIR. It is important to note that the approach of mass group enrollments is not necessarily the best way forward. NIRA needs to be supported to maintain a steady state, continuous operating model of registering people and keeping the NIR up to date. This implies that every birth, death, and NID application, wherever in the country, must be captured and lead to an immediate update of the NIR. There are already meaningful incentives for the NID to operate this way, for example, the requirement that the NID is shown for subscriber identity module (SIM) card registration and other services.
Civil Registration: Positive Beginnings but a Downward Slide that Needs to Be Urgently Addressed
In 1904, Uganda became the first country in Africa to issue a native act for birth and death registration, preceding other countries by half a century. The coverage reached because of this law (65 percent of births and 56 percent of deaths registered) was so impressive that one scholar wrote that, “Buganda’s system, even in decline, was still far superior to the methods of population recording instituted by the postwar French regime [. . .] and indeed to almost any other system in tropical Africa.”3 At its height, the system had expanded across the whole of Uganda, with the exception of Karamoja.
This unique history should have given Uganda a head start when Independence came in 1962, but much was lost during the decades of political turbulence that ensued. From 1973 to 2004, the Registrar General of Births and Deaths, based in the Ministry of Justice, was responsible for civil registration. In 2004, the responsibility was handed over to the Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). In 1994, Uganda reported rates of 35 percent birth registration and 25 percent death registration (likely estimates). By 2014 less than 8 percent of the population had a long-form birth certificate, and it was estimated that only about 1 percent of deaths were being registered. Currently, birth registration rates are about 32 percent and death registration is approximately 1 percent. The declining pace of birth registration and the low death registration coverage represent a major risk for a reliable identification system in the country.
State of Civil Registration Can Undermine the Investment in NID, NIR, and NIRA
Currently, coverage of the population five years and older is good because of NID issuance to those ages 16+, as well as the coverage of “learners” ages 5–15. But only 19.2 percent of the population has some form of birth record.5 Among those aged 5–15, approximately 4 million were not issued a National Identification Number (NIN) through the “Learners Project” because they were out of school and the project only reached learners in registered government and private schools. Without a rapid increase in coverage of civil registration, these gaps will mean the NIR will quickly become unreliable and the veracity of the data will not be good enough for digital authentication of identity. The continuous updating of the NIR is directly reliant on the registration of key events in the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system, particularly births and deaths, and the prompt clearance of NID applications and backlogs.
The Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) estimated there were 17,785,400 persons 16 years and older in 2015. By 2020, just five years later, UBOS data suggest that close to 400,000 persons among these NID-holders will have died—and these deaths will likely not be recorded in the civil registration system if it continues as is. During the same five years, 4,865,000 young persons will have become NID-eligible (reaching the age of 16). About one quarter of these will not have been covered by the “Learners Project” and thus will not have a NIN to facilitate relatively easy issuance of the NID. Annual issuance of about 1 million NIDs to newly eligible NID applicants across the country is a challenge in itself, and requires a very different operation than the mass enrollments used in the past. It is, to an extent, comparable to what the Electoral Commission (EC) has to do each election cycle to update the voter roll, except NIRA must do this continuously while the EC does this every five years.
There is a belief that increasing the number of registration points is the solution to coverage gaps in civil registration, yet experience from other countries (such as Cameroon and Tanzania) prove the proximity principle is incorrect. When the cost to society of poor civil registration is large, but local governments do not feel the burden of that cost, then the civil registration function needs to be assumed by the central government. That is the case in Uganda.
NIRA needs to develop a sustainable operating model which effectively offers birth and death registration services in all districts (and at sub-county levels) without necessarily requiring NIRA’s permanent physical presence in all locations. The advantages of having reliable demographic and vital statistics data at local government level, and hence having the benefit of government services optimally allocated to local populations proportional to their size, greatly outweighs the advantages of local government performing the civil registration task poorly and undermining the sustainability of the national ID system. However, for such an operating model, NIRA needs the human, technical, and financial resources, and the work partnerships that give it access to necessary external know-how and resources.
Potential to Leverage the NIR and NID
The impressive rollout of the NID has put Uganda in a different league of countries. According to the latest available enrollment data, more than 26 million Ugandans have been enrolled in the NIR, representing approximately 66 percent of the population.6 The current national ID system is technologically advanced, which has created the potential for leveraging the national ID system for e-government and authentication by public and private sectors (e.g., mobile phone companies, banks, and insurance companies), further expanding financial inclusion, strengthening social protection delivery, supporting immigration control and refugee management, and helping the Electoral Commission create an up-to-date voter register for the 2021 general elections. In turn, NIRA would benefit from linkages to other registries to strengthen the accuracy and integrity of the NIR, such as on refugees (maintained by the Office of the Prime Minister), and on aliens (maintained by the Directorate of Citizenship and Migration).
Cost Savings from a Reliable NIR
A reliable NIR would generate significant savings in both public and private sectors. Already in Uganda a government payroll verification exercise conducted in 2016 matched Ministry of Public Service records with NIR entries to identify and remove “ghost workers,” leading to an annual savings in the government wage bill of USh 24.6 billion (US$6.9million). In particular, elections will benefit over time from an accurate and reliable NIR. Uganda has already been able to keep election costs low by comparison to other African countries. Prior to 2000, the average African election cost US$4.10 per elector; this has tripled to US$11.40 per elector. In contrast, Uganda’s EC was able to keep costs at US$8.60 per elector for the 2015–16 elections, saving the country US$43 million (USh 160 billion). While everything possible was done to prepare the NID issuance for the 2016 elections, the EC still had to undertake special measures (e.g., photo lists of registered voters for each polling station) to achieve a smoothly run election. In principle, even more election cost savings should be possible in the future if the NIR is accurate and reliable, and if NIDs are issued in a timely fashion to eligible people and the deceased are promptly deleted from the NIR.
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