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Minority, civil society groups warn over risk of exclusion by Huduma Bill

Huduma Namba card. [Courtesy]

Minority communities have decried risk of exclusion from government services should the Huduma Bill, 2021 be passed without amendments.

Various civil society groups yesterday suggested amendments to the Bill currently before the National Assembly to prevent further marginalisation of the minority.

The lobby groups also sought for inclusion of clauses that will protect abuse of personal data for commercial benefit by those in authorities.

Nubian Rights Forum (NRF) told members of the Departmental Committee on Administration and National Security that the community has suffered historical injustices and was on the verge of being marginalised further should the Bill be implemented in its current form.

In its submission to the committee that is currently collecting public views on the Bill, NRF chairperson Shafi Ali Hussein said the risk of exclusion was one of the major issues highlighted in the 2020 Huduma Namba judgment by the High Court.

He said the government was mandated to establish a comprehensive regulatory framework that addresses how Kenyans without identification documents and people with biometric challenges can enroll in the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS).

“The Bill does not sufficiently address the issue of exclusion that has been repeatedly raised by the Nubian Rights Forum,” the forum submitted.

“Nubians who have challenges in registering for identification documents such as ID cards, passports, birth certificates due to challenges in the current system will be further marginalised. This Bill must address issues of historical exclusion in the identification system in order to successfully anchor the future,” added the forum.

Huduma Namba card. [Courtesy]

The forum suggested amendment to section 10 (1) (b) to allow for flexibility on how an applicant can prove his or her identity for enrollment into NIIMS including non-documentary forms of proof so as to improve inclusion of the most vulnerable.

In its submission, Coalition of Civil Society Organisations sought for amendments for the law to provide for a multi-year transitional period between the current Registration of Persons Act and the Huduma Act.

The organisation said that the Huduma Bill does not acknowledge that Kenya has an existing identification system in place nor provide for how the current system and the proposed NIIMS will relate to one another.

“The transition period must also address initial enrollment in NIIMS, in particular for those without registration documents and for those in the process of obtaining an ID card under existing laws. A transition period in which the focus is expanding coverage of birth registration and ID card issuance, prior,” the group submitted through its senior program manager Mustafa Mahmoud

They also seek for inclusion of a provision to establish a robust governing body for NIIMS that is independent and responsible for the day-to-day implementation and management of the system.

Similar concerns were raised by Amnesty International Executive Director Irungu Houghton who said it was worrying that the responsibility for NIIMS system was squarely placed under Interior Principal Secretary.

“This is worrying as it lowers accessibility of legal identification registration services, reduces accountability for the NIIMS database and goes against international principles of population-wide digital identification documents," he said.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) would be required to use Huduma Namba as its database for registered voters should the Bill be implemented.

Huduma Centre along Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Kenya Revenue Authority would also use the system as its source for identifying taxpayers.

According to the Bill, the national identity card, despite having all the personal data details, including biometrics, has very little utility in functional areas.

“The failure to have a linkage between foundational and functional systems has led to duplication in registrations of persons, wastage of resources and diminution of trust in the identity ecosystem,” states the Bill.

It seeks to establish the NIIMS that will be a primary database for both foundational and functional data.

“This will create an efficient identity system that will present opportunities for fiscal savings, development of the digital economy and enhanced public and private sector service delivery,” states the Bill.