Wednesday, May 02, 2007

National ID Cards: Thumbs Up...

I must admit it. I have been critical of the Tanzanian government; particularly on the way it has been making decisions. To be honest, and at least from my perspective, most of the decisions that the government has made are just ridiculous.

I have also committed myself to being fair. When the government makes a good decision, I will not hesitate to commend that. Besides, what I desire is for the government to constantly make great decisions. Good decisions do not only indicate a sign of maturity and accountability, it shows a sense of intelligence and superb common sense application. In the very end, the regular mwananchi becomes a winner. Isn’t a great a win-win situation?

One of the areas that have been a black spot in the Tanzanian government is the perceptions and reality that corruption is rampant when it comes to granting of major contracts. (But I think I can cut the Tanzanian government a slack, since signs of kickbacks and gross graft cloud contracts in most countries).

So through my web browsing, I came across news that the Tanzanian government has awarded Digimarc a contract to generate voters’ identification cards. That’s what Digimarc’s official website is saying, but I think these identification cards will be regarded as national identification cards.

The Tanzanian national identification card project will cost a huge financial bill. At the estimated $160 million, (according to story published by the Guardian, the cost of implementing the project is estimated to be TShs 162 billion, which is roughly equivalent to $160 million) that is not a small change for a country like Tanzania. I know there has been a debate on whether spending such an amount is justified or a priority given the fact that most school kids do not have school supplies or even desks and chairs. I am not going to dwell on that, but I like to run some numbers to make sense of some things.

Just by doing quick calculations, you can tell that $160 million divided by 35 million people (that is an estimate), will give you roughly $5 per each Tanzania. That is about TShs. 6,000. Given that national identification will be issued to every Tanzanian, there will be not preferential treatment in getting the national IDs. I would cry foul if just a fraction of Tanzanians will benefit, if the cost per each person was extremely high.

Besides, Tanzania is the only country in East Africa without national identification cards. It is about time we get one. If you ask me what the identification cards would do the lives of ordinary wakulima, I would not honestly be in a position to give you a straight answer. Nonetheless, I know some things are just necessary evils.

In the past, I know such contracts would have been awarded to some shoddy companies like Richmond Development Corporation or the like of Dowans whatever. I don’t know how Digimarc got the contract, may be through oiling somebody’s palms, but given that generation of identification cards is what the company does, I hail the government for selecting a company that will play within its core competency.

In addition, given that Digimarc is a publicly traded company, we can officially log a complaint against the company with the United States government, if we come across information that will indicate that the company has violate the United States laws, which includes paying bribes to secure contracts or do business in foreign countries. In addition, we can vouch the company’s background and past performance.

I am admitting it; the government has taken the best route with regards to engage an appropriate company for generation of national identification cards. For that, I sincerely commend them.

So this is the deal: If you are a Tanzanian living in the United States or Canada and can buy shares, just go ahead and buy Digimarc’s shares as a piece of your portfolio. That way, we can always take “our” money back. And I think that is smart.


Mbwana said...

I would hold your praise until implementation- You do remember the passport fiasco? Just because a deal has bean signed it does not mean all will automatically be rosy- well at least it wasn't Richmond corporation who won the deal! All this means is that our Govt is doing its due diligence better!

Jaduong Metty said...

As I pointed out, I don't know how these guys got the contract, but my praise is based on the fact that AT LEAST the government selected a company that will be providing a service they have provided for years.

It could be the selected Digimarc out of pressures from donors, but at least this is not similar to the stories I have been on This Day newspaper about the shoddy deals surrounding the supply of military trucks. According to This Day, a company that has never supplied a single military truck was awarded contract over a company that has been doing that for years..

I don't think that management of the ID card issuance will be delegated to Digimarc...that is entirely up to the government. As you have made reference to the passport issue, mismanagement is bound to happen. So I agree with you, crazy stuff is bound to happen. History testifies to that.

Mbwana said...

Yeah my point was that even after due diligence (assuming, as you note, they chose a company with a track record etc...). When it comes to actually handing out the cards, doing good record keeping, preventing fraud etc.. the government may not do it properly- and this is where 90% of problems lie.
Passport example- there were still long lines and errors when it came to renewing your passport despite the new state of the art passports producing machines.
Taking your truck example- sourcing the trucks is one thing, maintaining them and army using them properly is another...
Hey- I shouldn't be too hard on our Govt- it happens in western countries too-the UK Govt ordered Apache helicopters yet did not have trained pilots ready to fly them for over a year!
I hold my breathe for how long it takes from when I apply for my card, get my bio info taken etc... and have it my possession.

Jaduong Metty said...

I guess your example proves that all governments are similar - all government officials care about is the expansion of their budgets as opposed to improvement in efficiencies.

The only difference, in my perspective, is that the UK govt,for instance, has created an enviroment where the private sector is so strong that inefficiencies in the govt do not greatly affect an ordinary citizen.

We know that's not the story in Tanzania. A single mistake by the government is bound to hurt the country so a long time, given the government is still very much running almost every aspect of Tanzanians' lives.

Fred said...

Metty... you almost got me there for I thought you were talking about the National ID project.

Turns out you have mixed up things and you are actually talking of the voters registration cards which are not the same as the National ID project.

As for your stock advise... so did you buy their stock back then? At what price and what ROI did you get? What is their stock price now?

Careful there it's not advised to buy stocks based on emotions (such as, "this company is serving my country so I'll buy their stock"). But you already know that stock markets can be cold beasts.

Siku njema

Siku njema

Suparna's World said...

Hi, can you tell me please what's the present status of Tanzania's ID card project? Has it been rolled out or what has happened to it..Actually, I want to know more on this topic.