Tanzania’s preparations for a referendum have been hit by hitches that could undermine the credibility of the general election later this year.
Last week, the government suspended the issuance of national identity cards following a shortage of funds and human capital. This came just days after the biometric voter registration (BVR) exercise in some regions was suspended over technical problems.
The National Identification Authority (NIDA) started the registration exercise in 2012. So far, over 6.1 million people have been registered, and 1.7 million issued with IDs.
The project is being jointly carried out by NIDA and the National Electoral Commission (NEC), and was to be completed this year so that the IDs could be used in the elections scheduled for October.
Financial constraints have hit the BVR project, which is moving slowly. Thomas William, who heads NIDA’s Communication and Documentation Unit, said the targets could not be met due to financial constraints, but the exercise had been completed in Dar es Salaam, Coast, Lindi, Morogoro, Mtwara and Tanga regions of Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar.
“This is a very small percentage, taking into consideration that the exercise started in 2012, and we have only been able to register and issue the IDs to five of at least 25 regions countrywide,” he said.
He, however, expressed optimism that in the 2015/2016 budget, the government would allocate funds that would enable NIDA to resume registration in other parts of the country.
NIDA had requested Tsh160 billion ($85 million) out of the total Tsh476 billion ($252 million), but disbursement has been slow. A Malaysian company, Iris Corporation Bhd, won the five-year contract to issue 25 million national IDs to qualifying Tanzanian citizens.
The government made a decision that the national IDs will soon be used as the only official documents for citizens and residents domestically.
The process for Tanzanians to get national IDs started in the 1960s. However, a number of challenges have hampered implementation, among them the high cost of preparing and managing the programme.
At the time, there was no properly documented roadmap, and the costs of such an undertaking were not known, given the complexity of registering and issuing secure ID cards to the adult population of approximately 15 million people.
The benefits of possessing a national ID are immense, including linking up with government systems and databases such as those of the Registration Insolvency and Trusteeship Agency (RITA), the Tanzania Revenue Authority, the police and migration department.
In February this year, the government said it was facing a huge financial deficit, as it was depending solely on collections from the TRA. As a result, all development projects had come to a halt.
The decision by donors to withhold budget support of $500 million pending the outcome of the Tegeta escrow account scandal — a multimillion dollar corruption scheme involving senior government figures — has affected fiscal plans.
The taxman collects an average of Tsh800 billion ($425 million) monthly, which is only enough to pay wages and service the national debt.
Finance Minister, Saada Mkuya in February told the House budget committee that in the past six months, the government had been operating on meagre resources from TRA, and was not in a position to finance a single development project.