Richard Kapule Ounoi, a teacher, was one of the first Ugandans in 2015 to pick their national Identity Cards (IDs). However, his card had an error. His middle name, Kapule, had been rewritten as Kalule.
The former ordinarily belongs to people from Tororo in the East, the latter for those from Central Uganda. Mr Ounoi alerted the ID issuance officers and left the card with them to correct the mistake. Twenty-one months later, Mr Ounoi has not yet received the corrected ID card.
“I frequent the Kampala Central Division office where I am supposed to pick the card. They keep telling me ‘your ID is not out’,” Mr Ounoi says. “Next week, I plan to go to Nirab (National Information and Registration Authority); I am thinking of applying for an ID afresh. I am entitled to an ID.”
Mr Ounoi says without an ID, he cannot now buy or register land and cannot apply for a passport.
Like Mr Ounoi, Karugaba, who picked her ID on April 20 in Kawempe, discovered it had an error.
Among others particulars, the card had her mugshot and the first and last names.
However, the data entrant who worked on her card ‘added’ her a middle name; Ruth.
“I don’t know where they got the Ruth name from,” says Ms Karugaba. “But I am not going back [to Nira] to correct the mistake.”
It took Nira long – more than eleven months, instead of one – to process the ID.
“And it was a hustle to get it [even after all those months],” she says.
Nira’s Manager Public Relations and Corporate Affairs, Mr Gilbert Kadilo, was yet to grant the paper an appointment to ask why Nira charges the blameless parties for Nira’s commissions by the time we went to press.
Incidents of its errors commissions are many. Olive’s ID came with the birthday changed.
As for ‘Wesonge’, though – when filling the application form – he clearly spelt out his name in block letters; the data entrant replaced one of the letters in the name with another.
‘Wesonge’ only realised it after the ID had been processed. Nine months later, Nira is yet to give him an error-free card.
Mr Tom Muyanja is another statistic. He refused to take his ID until Nira had corrected the mistake on it. And he has been to Nira’s ID office many times. The card is not yet ready.
“I have given up checking,” Mr Muyanja says through an April 15 letter to the Daily Monitor.
This partly explains why 1.5 million national IDs – Nira’s April 2017 figure – remain uncollected; when the owners go to the different ID issuance offices, the clerks there tell the owners that the IDs are “not ready”.
The mistakes also raise questions about the integrity of the data in the government’s hands. Clearly, someone lacked many a bank teller’s meticulousness when recording a customer’s bank balance.
Such mistakes, if not corrected early, could, as one aspirant for a parliamentary seat during the February 2016 general election discovered, work to one’s disadvantage.
Unfortunately, going by Mr Lubega’s case, Nira sees no urgency in addressing the matter.
When Mr Lubega, who refused to take his ID because it had a mistake, asked how soon a new one would be processed, he was told replacing IDs that have mistakes is, at present, not a priority. Nira did not tell him what the authority’s current priority is.
Whatever Nira’s priority is, hundreds, if not thousands, of citizens are either carrying IDs that have errors, are waiting for Nira to reissue them new IDs, or, like Mr Muyanja, have ‘given up’.
Were people like Ms Karugaba to report their cases, one would get a better picture of the magnitude.
Section 82 of the Registration of Persons Act, 2015 shields employees of Nira from personal liability for mistakes made in the course of duty.
The section says, “A member of the Board of staff of the Authority or any other person acting under the authority of the Board or the Authority is not personally liable for any omission done or omitted to be done in good faith in the exercise of the functions of the Authority.”
However, where an applicant gives false information or makes a false statement when providing information for an entry, the applicant would be committing an offence.
Such an offence, according to Section 76 of the Act, attracts a fine not exceeding Shs2.4 million or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or he or she is fined and imprisoned for even up to five years.
Deeper problem with data
Cases of data entry mistakes are not unique to Nira, one could add. The pre-2016 Electoral Commission (EC) Voter Register, for instance, had mistakes.
It was because of those mistakes that the government, rather than rely on the EC’s data to process national IDs and thus ‘save money’, decided to in 2014/15 to register Ugandans anew.
The EC would later, just before the 2016 general election, update the register. It used data collected and processed by Nira.
Therefore, where Nira made a mistake, the EC might have repeated it on the voter register. Data entry mistakes are also in the private sector.
This reporter, after surviving a car accident in Kyankwanzi last year, later went to St. Francis Hospital Nsambya in Kampala for treatment. He duly filled the forms the hospital staff told him to fill. Among other particulars, he had to write his date of birth, which he did. Correctly.
The printout the hospital issued to him had slashed his age by nineteen months.
In 2014, the writer registered his Uganda telecom Limited (Utl) SIM, indicating the day, month and year in which he was born.
A year later, when Utl was updating its records, it changed his month of birth from October to September. He informed Utl, via a medium now in vogue, Twitter about the mistake. One year later, Utl has yet to correct the mistake.
With the national IDs, the Uganda Law Society (ULS) President, Mr Francis Gimara, says it is in the best interest of those whose IDs have errors to return them to Nira for correction.
Mr Gimara says the IDs will be used to access a range of services, including opening or operating bank accounts and even purchasing land.
In all these cases, one will have to state their name. The agency offering the service would note any discrepancies. And one might at that point be referred back to Nira, which some citizens like Karugaba do not want to deal with again.
To encourage people to report mistakes, Mr Gimara says Nira must speed up the issuance of IDs.
“The people capturing the data must be thorough,” Mr Gimara adds.
He attributes the mistakes so far made on many IDs to a rush to print IDs. “The other time [2014/15], the rush was in readiness for the 2016 general election. This time around, it was to because of the registration of SIM cards,” he says.
Still, he says, to encourage citizens whose IDs have mistakes to return them to Nira for correction, Nira should expedite the process of issuing IDs.
Should that be done, the next item would be to make those who have yet to pick their IDs to do so.