Two years after the deadline set by the East African Community Common Market Protocol for all citizens of the regional bloc to have national identity cards, only 401 Ugandans out of a population of 34 million have received identity cards in a project that has so far cost the taxpayer millions of dollars.
It remains unclear, as the latest $99.7 million scandal in the long-running identity card project unfolds, whether other Ugandans will have to fork out their own money to get the IDs, or if the government can see through a project that has been riddled with corruption scandals since its inception over a decade ago.
Government departments are also fighting with each other, with the Ministry of Internal Affairs saying that asking Ugandans to pay for their identity cards is tantamount to buying their citizenship, a position that the Ministry of Finance opposes, saying Ugandans should share the costs in order for the ID project to take off.
Parliament, which has investigated the misuse of funds for the National Security Information System (NSIS) — commonly referred to as the ID project — has already recommended interdiction and prosecution of public officials, notably former finance minister Syda Bbumba for appropriating the money for the project without parliament’s approval.
Others are former Internal Affairs Minister Kirunda Kivejinja, former attorney general Khiddu Makubuya and Internal Affairs Permanent Secretary Stephen Kagoda.
The Electoral Commission’s Secretary Sam Rwakojo is also named in the scam, and parliament wants him to pay for the loss of kits that include over 30 laptops and cameras.
Deputy chairman of the Parliamentary committee on Defense and Internal Affairs Simon Mulongo said the named officials flouted public procurement laws while selecting German firm Mulhlbauer ID Services to execute the project; Mulhlbauer has so far failed to produce the IDs.
As a result, Uganda has so far lost Ush249.5 billion ($99.7 million) as the material and equipment for the project lie idle at the Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation in Entebbe, since it were brought into the country in 2010.
“Kirunda Kivejinja, as the overall political head of the procurement of this project, should take the political, financial and administrative responsibility in the anomalies and losses occasioned,” said Mr Mulongo.
The other ministers and officials are also accused of controversially, and without feasible explanation, inflating the cost of the project from Ush200 billion ($80.1 million) to Ush249.5 billion ($99.7 million).
This is effectively how nearly $100 million went down the drain.
First, for 401 IDs, Ugandans have paid $80 million; then, because of the waivers granted to the contractor, the government was compelled to assume Mulhlbauer’s tax obligations, as a consequence of which the Ugandan taxpayer has so far lost $12.2 million.
Further, the contract with the German firm did not cater for currency fluctuations, a scenario that has cost Ugandans $2.2 million.
The other loss of $5.7 million was a result of paying interest, since former finance minister Ms Bbumba secretly borrowed to fund the project.
Parliament has rejected President Museveni’s earlier request to the majority ruling National Resistance Movement legislators to exonerate the officials named in this rip-off, arguing that he directed that the Mulhlbauer be hired.
But it is not clear when the ID processing exercise will get back on track, even though the EAC Common Market Protocol required every East African to have identification by 2010 to ease movement of people, goods, services and labour across the region.
Kenya and Rwanda lead the way with IDs; Burundi, with the help of the United Nations Development Programme, is in the process of issuing identity cards for all its citizens, while Tanzania has also failed to meet the regional bloc’s deadline.
However, the country’s government has set itself an ambitious target of issuing its citizens with cards within the next 18 months, so they can be used in the referendum scheduled for 2014.
Uganda started implementing the NSIS shortly after the coming into force of the Constitution in 1995 but the project is still stuttering 17 years down the line.
In 2005, the Inspectorate of Government cancelled the contract of Face Technologies, a firm that had won tender to provide IDs, when the project cost ballooned to $152 million from its bid offer of $98 million.
In its recommendations, parliament wants the executive to quickly find money to continue implementation of the project, but disagreements over the source of money are likely to stall it again.
Minister of Finance in charge of Investments Aston Kajara says the government and Ugandans who want identity cards will have to share the cost, as stated in the 2012/2013 national budget speech.
“We agreed to this position in Cabinet and there is no reason to change it,” said Mr Kajara.
Marcello Bwesigye Kyamutetera, deputy team leader at the NSIS, said lack of funds means their operations will have to be postponed.
The plan was to have a kit at every parish where people would go for registration. Because Uganda has no vital registration system, the department was supposed to rely on local leadership to identify Ugandans and non-Ugandans.
Only Ugandans over 18 years will receive IDs while those below will be registered and the record kept.