This piece contributes to the ongoing debate on how the SIM card reregistration could be implemented without much incident.
1. Let us start with the full understanding that the NIA registration was intended to be the MOTHER of all registrations in Ghana. It was designed to solve the problem of multiple registrations and multiple issuance of ID cards by state agencies.
2. The idea was that, once that the NIA database was created, all state institutions would have the opportunity of plugging into it, as and when necessary, to access as much data as may be relevant for their purposes. It is for this reason that the data capturing process for NIA registration is quite laborious and very comprehensive.
3. With regards to NCA and its directive to telcos to collect biometric data of SIM card users in the country, It is important for us to remind ourselves of two things: the first is that the NIA registration captured the biometric data of all registrants. Secondly, it is even more important for us to highlight the fact that the NIA registration also captured telephone numbers of all registrants.
4. Essentially, what the above means is that, the data the NCA is looking for is already sitting quietly in the databases of the NIA. So, the question arises: why is the NCA embarking on another biometric data capturing expedition with its attendant costs which would eventually be passed on to telephone subscribers?
5. I have heard arguments that it is necessary for telcos to capture the biometric data again because it is possible for some people to use the NIA cards of other people to register their SIM cards. But, you see, that is where the whole problem starts from. And that is why I have described the current approach as being deficient in system and design thinking.
The Alternative Solution
1. Given the kind of background that we have established, all the NCA needed to do was to invite the NIA and telcos to merge their databases. I don’t know which database management software each of them is using but it is technologically very easy to merge different databases from different sources.
2. And, if the NCA had gotten the telcos to TEMPORARILY merge their databases with that of NIA, it would have been very easy for the telcos to match all the numbers in their databases with that of all telephone numbers in the NIA database. That way, the telcos, using minimum KYC (know your customer) information in their databases, would have been able to determine how many of their customers have already undergone biometric verification via the NIA.
4. For all numbers that match, the telcos could have simply extracted the data from the NIA database and then merge them into their own existing databases. That way, the telcos could have simply, in a hassle free manner, obtained the biometric data of all persons duly registered in their databases.
5. For numbers that do not match and those that match but with different KYC information, this is where reregistration should be required. And, at this stage, it is crucial to mention that the process of reregistration must be handled in an orderly and customer-friendly manner, devoid of panic-inducing approaches.
6. To start with, it is WRONG (hundred times wrong) for NCA to THREATEN the whole nation that it is going to deactivate all SIM cards that are not reregistered by March 31, 2022. I mean, how can a state agency be operating with this kind of mindset in the year 2022? You see, for such large-scale national level exercises, your best consideration should be a ‘phased approach’ where the whole thing is planned and implemented according to a well-thought schedule.
71. But, in this particular instance, as I have already demonstrated above, there is even no need for queues at the offices of telcos. The only thing is that all “affected” SIM owners who are not yet registered with NIA will be required to go and do so. Upon completing the process, they can then go to their telcos to update their KYC information or the telcos can pick the data directly from the NIA.
8. For those who are registered with NIA but with different KYC information, all the telcos will need to do will be to inform them of the discrepancies and request of them whether they want their data updated with their NIA details or they want to forfeit the numbers.
Advantages of My Proposal
1. Under the current approach, if a subscriber has telephone numbers with all four telcos in the country, it means this individual will have to go and queue at four different centres in order to reregister. With my proposal, there will be no queuing for subscribers whose data are well captured in the NIA database and that of the telcos. Secondly, if a phased approach is applied, with different deadlines for different categories of persons and groups, there would be no panic queuing.
2. It is important to reiterate the fact that, if the current approach is allowed to go on, it will certainly UNDERMINE the authority of the NIA as the state agency mandated to collect and manage the national ID system. This is because, very soon, other state institutions will come up with all manner of trumped-up excuses as to why they should be allowed to collect their own biometric data. When that happens, it will defeat the entire purpose of projecting the NIA card as a dynamic single MULTIPURPOSE national ID.
Future SIM Registrations
3. In the final analysis, I know some may ask: so, with my solution, how can future SIM registrations be managed securely to avoid identity fraud? The answer is simple. Firstly, the NCA must ensure that SIM registration is centralised. That, is to say, if anyone presents my NIA card details for SIM registration, irrespective of the telco, it should be possible for me to receive an alert via my existing registered number or email for me to confirm. On the other hand, if someone is registering a SIM card for the very FIRST time, the individual must be required to go to an NIA office for a verification code that will activate the number. That way, the role of the NIA will always be upheld and there will be sanity in the system.
In conclusion, all I’m saying is that NCA, NIA and the telcos must strengthen their collaboration so that Ghanaians will not be unduly subjected to sheer man-made (or woman-made) inconveniences when it comes to SIM registrations or reregistrations. What is going on, presently, with the long queues is an eyesore. It doesn’t look good. In fact, it is crude.
Under the tenets of New Public Management (NPM) state agencies are entreated to offer public services with a customer-satisfaction approach. The Government of Ghana can do better and it should do better! Ghanaians should not be queuing for everything!
The author, Ernest Amoabeng Ortsin, is a policy analyst with a background in Management of Information Systems (MIS).
Source: Ernest Amoabeng Ortsin