A GOVERNMENT decision of May 17 for the placement of the national identity card services, so far run by the Election Commission, under the home affairs ministry and a subsequent order for the national identity card wing to take steps for the transfer of the infrastructure and human resources to the security services department of the ministry brought to the fore some issues for further consideration. Elections officials, however, went on demonstration against the government move the next day. An election commissioner is also reported to have equated, on Wednesday, the government move with ‘the final nail in the coffin’ in terms of the conduction of fair elections. The commissioner also seeks to say that the electoral roll and national identity cards are intrinsically linked and the removal of the national identity card responsibilities from the commission would complicate the process of an accurate electoral roll preparation and the electronic voting machine system based on the national identity database. While the commission cannot offer the national identity card services smoothly for its busyness with holding elections, national and local, for a considerable period in a year, the database is reported time and again to have flaws and duplicate registrations. Elections officials should rather have its focus more on holding free and fair elections, which have in recent times almost collapsed and need urgent repairs.
But it is also not altogether wise to put the national identity card services under the home affairs ministry. National identity card services under the security services department of the ministry could be manipulated to the benefits of whichever party is in the government for political power and purposes. This will not rid the system of frauds and irregularities that have already been noticed in the national identity card services having been under the commission for so many years. Besides, the passport services, which have always been under the home affairs ministry, have not been smooth at all. While the issuance and renewal process of the passport, which is required by a small portion of the population — at least smaller than the segment of the population in need of the national identity card — is fraught with flaws and apparent corruption, as has been reported on many occasions in the past, the services have mostly not been free of hassles for passport seekers. It is not credible that while an agency under the home affairs ministry has not been able to smoothly run the passport operation, another agency under the same ministry could do any better in handling national identity card services.
While the Election Commission should work to mend issues of elections that have debased in recent times and the home affairs ministry should work to improve on passport services, it would be wise for the government to set up an independent authority, with the required human resources and logistics, through the enactment of a law for its governance to deal with national identity card services. The authority could also have representation of all relevant agencies having a stake in the national identity card for checks and balances against corruption and frauds and for better services.
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