Questions over Huduma Namba as mass registration takes shape

A man displays documents during the launch of Huduma Namba at Whispers Park in Nyeri. Huduma The registration which targets all Kenyans, including babies will take 45 days. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Despite the Government’s mass roll out of the Huduma Namba national registration process last week, questions still linger over the implementation of the controversial project.

Government officials seem to be ignoring a court order issued recently barring compulsory registration of persons under the National Integrated Information Management System (NIIMS) programme.

This came even after the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), Nubian Rights Forum and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) went to court to block the registration process citing lack of an adequate regulatory framework

The court ruled that the process could continue though not mandatory.

A three-judge bench also ruled that elements such as DNA samples and Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates should not be collected as earlier planned. It noted that service delivery ought not to be pegged on attainment of the Huduma Namba.

However, the Government, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga insisted that the registration is compulsory, raising concern that Kenyans could be denied their constitutionally guaranteed rights if they fail to register.

In Machakos County, government officials have been warned through a memo that they would not receive May salaries if they fail to register for the Huduma Namba.

Chiefs and provincial administrators tasked with disseminating information on the registration process are also misinforming citizens that the process is mandatory, according to public communication seen by the Financial Standard.

President Kenyatta has nevertheless insisted that the Huduma Namba is meant to assist in national planning and service delivery.

“We need accurate, comprehensive and up to date records to address issues such as the diseases and injuries causing premature deaths and monitoring progress towards our development goals,” said Kenyatta during the launch of the registration exercise in Machakos last week. 

However, the government’s response to such data provided by both local and international agencies has done little to inspire confidence that the collection of even more data will translate to effective service delivery.

Currently, several parts of the country are suffering from food shortage and drought due to depressed rainfall during the 2018 October-December short rain season.

This is despite warnings from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS) months in advance that more than one million people in 13 counties are at risk of starvation and in need of urgent aid.

The Government’s own meteorological department had also issued periodic warnings throughout the year on the impending drought.

Warnings shared by all government ministries, State departments and counties that went unheeded. The same situation played out during the drought conditions in 2017 and 2015.

Still, several Kenyans still lost their lives as the Government scrambled to marshal resources to respond to the menace albeit too late.

This indicates that the government’s challenge is not one of lack of adequate data, but of appropriate response to data that is already available.

Kenyans have also questioned why the Government does not digitise the already existing data sets into a single record of truth.

The national identity card is the basic identification document that confers to Kenyans a number that has successfully been used for numerous functions including SIM card and voter registration.

The Government has offered no explanation of why it did not opt for the cheaper option of digitising this number and carrying out a registration and verification exercise for Kenyans without IDs and or foreigners.

This has raised questions over the motive for pushing ahead with the implementation of the NIIMS registration process said to cost Sh6 billion.

The fact that a tender of this monument and national importance was issued in private to three companies has also raised questions.

Parliament’s Budget and Appropriations Committee last year said lawmakers were constantly kept in the dark over the award of large tenders that have contributed to a spike in the country’s public debt.

 “Any contractual agreement worth more than Sh1 billion should be pre-approved by parliament beginning July 1, 2018,” said parliament’s Budget and Appropriations Committee in its pre-budget report for the 2018/2019 fiscal plan.

 “This committee is concerned that this house is only informed of large projects during the review of the budget,” explains the report in part.

“International practice now demands a pre-approval of such projects by parliament before they are tendered thus we need to review the Public Finance Management Act 2012 to ensure this information is availed to this house at the appropriate time.”

The changes to the PFM Act however never materialised.

This paved the way for the award of the tender to the little-known consortium Idemia, made up of Oberthur Technologies (OT) and Safran Identity and Security (Morpho), the same providers in charge of supplying registration kits to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) during the contested August 8, 2017, General Election.

This has raised questions over the insistence by the Government to involve the controversial firm in another lucrative tender despite the acrimonious deployment of its technology during the last general elections even as many other service providers exist in both the local and international markets.

“Some of you have expressed concern about the NIIMS system primarily around the issue of privacy and possible misuse of this data,” he said.

“These are indeed vital concerns but I want to assure you that we are putting in place the necessary legal framework to protect you.”

The Data Protection Bill 2018 has been in development for the better part of the last six years and should ideally have been the precursor of the implementation of the NIIMS programme.