Electronic or manual, we should restore faith in all digital systems

A voter confirms his name on the voter register during the ODM nominations at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Sports Complex in Kisumu Central Constituency on April 14, 2022. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The motorcycle industry in Kenya is in trouble. Here is why. In the last several months, motorcycle sales have plunged by a staggering 75 per cent. Without doubt, the lingering effects of the Corona pandemic are still depressing the economy and affecting business.

Additionally, one of the major reasons has been the inefficient National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) electronic service portal. Subsequently, assemblers are experiencing a myriad motorcycle registration challenges. This has resulted to cashflow challenges, unforeseen lawsuits due to delayed transfer of asset ownership and in reality loss of livelihoods to thousands of Kenyans because every delayed bike sale is a potential boda boda job opportunity.

A few days ago, a crisis meeting was held between Trade and Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina, Honda Head of Operations for Europe, Africa and Middle East, Motorcycle Assemblers Association of Kenya (MAAK) and NTSA among others.

During the meeting, we spotlighted some key inefficiencies that have a direct correlation with the plunge in motorcycle sales. Thankfully to leadership of the Cabinet Secretary and the NTSA Director General, a Rapid Response Initiative was agreed upon and deadlines pinned.

We appreciate that any system can face operational challenges. However, the fact that NTSA acknowledged the challenges and reverted asking us to use their system during off peak hours meaning nighttime and early morning, it means that the problem is far beyond NTSA. There seems to be a systemic failure bedeviling government online platforms.

E-citizen, which is the online gateway to all government services has been experiencing numerous service outages. During these periods, logging into the platform takes extended periods, adversely affecting critical services like issuance of passports and work permits.

Banking systems are also struggling. One of the largest banks in Kenya experienced a system outage for close to a week. Such outages have negative impacts on businesses and people. Interestingly, the banking network relies on the Integrated Population Registration System (IPRS), which is connected to the National Registration Bureau (NRB).

The IPRS was launched in March 2015 to manage credible data which was noted to be critical for development and indispensable for planning and delivery of public services. Accordingly, public services rely heavily on this platform.

This brings me to the all-important matter of national elections. There is an ongoing voter identification tussle between political parties and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on whether to use manual or electronic register to identify the 22.1 million voters eligible to vote.

IEBC’s Electronic Voter Identification System (EVID) helps in identifying voters. If compromised, this system can end up ‘identifying’ dead voters as actual voters. It can also ‘identify’ uncollected IDs and deploy them to vote one way or another.

Indeed, all digital systems can be compromised so that they can behave one way or another. That is what viruses do to our computers.

Fortunately, we have a three-step opportunity to instill integrity into our national electronic platforms to ensure a vibrant democracy and the sustainable development that accompanies it.

Firstly, all pending backlog on NTSA, eCitizen, all public portals and IPRS must be updated to allay unnecessary fears and business suffering.

Secondly, I suggest that IEBC immediately discloses an authoritative manual voters register to political parties so that they can independently verify its accuracy and authenticity.  Further, political parties ought to be supported to establish independent tallying centers.

Thirdly, I suggest that the NRB urgently discloses all uncollected National IDs for every ward. Similarly, the Immigration Department should disclose the number of uncollected passports. These can only happen for common good once we think and act green!