Tuesday, February 13, 2007

New Generation ID Cards (& Ideas)

There have been a few very good suggestions made recently with regard to IDs. The first one is the move towards making them machine-readable, a move that would pave way for things like E-ticketing, which would make the hustle of getting airline tickets or tickets for football matches a thing of the past. The only hurdle in this direction is that Hon. Konchellah better ensure that parallel identity theft legislation is passed by his Ministry of Information counterpart, because making ID cards machine-readable exposes people to greater chances of global identity theft.

Yet another wise suggestion was posed by Mr. Maina Kiai – that an ID card should also serve as a person’s voter card. Having recently taken part in the soon to be concluded voter registration exercise, I couldn’t help but feel that the process is a duplication of duties; the only new piece of information contained within a voter’s card (when compared to an ID card) is the constituency in which the person chooses to cast his/her vote. In the name of efficiency and simplification of the whole process, I believe the voter process can be reduced to a mere 2 minutes per person because it should only boil down to ID verification and issuing the person with a reminder of the constituency in which the person registered to vote.

Every Kenyan is expected by law to have an ID, so penetrability of the idea will not be an issue. However, one issue that seriously concerns me is the rate at which Kenyans lose their IDs and the laborious process of acquiring a replacement. The current system whereby a lost ID card is returned to your chief’s location office is highly inefficient, primarily because those details (of location) were simply taken from our Father’s IDs; most youth and middle-aged people today can attest that their lives hardly revolve around their fathers’ place of birth. Hence, I am proposing a different, more efficient approach of recovering lost ID cards that utilizes three important components: The Immigration/Home Affair Department, the Post Office & Public goodwill.

For example, within Nairobi, with all the IDs seen to be littering the streets and notice boards these days, special boxes can be set up in specific places (perhaps even utilizing the current street drop-off boxes that are already in place) where these IDs can be deposited by anybody who comes across a lost one. For popular clubs and night spots, for example The Carnivore, where patrons may inadvertently lose their IDs, the club can sort out these cards from their lost & found pile, and deliver them to the post office during one of their mail runs. Next comes the Post office’s task: they can include these special boxes in their mail pick up routes so as to collect these lost IDs; the IDs collected in this manner and those delivered from other organizations’ lost & found piles can be combined and placed in a special inbox for the Immigration/Home Affair Department, from where they can be summarily delivered to a special office within the department for cataloguing.

With the help of a computer and an up-do-date database to perform this cataloguing, the personal information of the ID card holders’, particularly their email addresses & post office box numbers, can be traced, and from there both an email and a postal letter could be sent out to the ID card owner informing them of their ID’s location & conditions for getting it back (at a basic fee of about sh.100 – via mail order, or tentatively the same amount as is currently paid for an ID card replacement).

I believe this system shows great promise because it targets the ID card holders within their specific localities, and does not try to trace them via their chief, a move that might cause the ID card to be lost within the system. This could technically be put to the test by examining current statistics concerning how effective recoverability of IDs really is, and a pilot study, within Nairobi, to see how effective my proposed system is. Furthermore, I believe that the effectiveness of the new system can be replicated on a large scale, so long as one of the big Nairobi post offices (GPO or City Square) is used as a collection hub.

Truly, if the ID card is as important a document as we claim it to be, then surely we should not allow Kenyans to wallow in misery when they lose their cards; and finally, it would be beneficial across the board if The Immigration/Home Affair Department were allowed to concern itself primarily with the task of creating IDs for those people that require new ones, and not get tied down by IDs, already in circulation, that can actually be returned to their owners.

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