“My country finally owns me!" was the delighted reaction from a high level private sector official to the possibility of a national identity system in Bangladesh. A lot of brain-wracking thought went into the possible economic benefits of such a project.
The sleepless nights of complicated financial analyses and exasperatingly fruitless brainstorming sessions that reach a point when you are not willing to say anything until you find something that will make the rest of them jump on their chairs, make things very difficult sometimes! But, the answer was there, short and simple. Such a refreshing start to an interview for the purpose of identifying the probable benefits to service delivery agencies of having access to a near-immaculate database of citizens, was hardly anticipated.
Rolling out robust, digitized national ID (NID) cards to 100 million citizens over a period of five years is the daunting task ahead for Identification System for Enhancing Access to Services (IDEA) Project. One may argue about the novelty offered by this initiative when Bangladeshi citizens with voting eligibility actually have NIDs since late 2008. A solid counter argument would be the “digitized nature” of the sophisticated NIDs of ‘digital Bangladesh’, enabling machine readability of biometric citizen information embedded in the card, as a replacement of the paper based, easily faked cards with little printed information and near-alien photos that gave rise to popular groups like “I hate my NID photo” on Facebook!
IDEA got a go-ahead following successful negotiations of the World Bank with the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on April 13, 2011. The Bank is financing US$ 195million of the US$ 200 million project that will be executed by the NID Wing of Bangladesh Election Commission, a constitutional body overseeing national elections of the country. Supporting the ecstatic corporate official in the opening paragraph, the NID has already given rise to a feeling of national ownership. In addition, the project aims to enhance delivery of public and private service through appropriate identification of clients and beneficiaries by allowing service agencies access to certain basic citizens’ data embedded in the NID.
This is likely to open up doors in terms of tapping into potential areas of opportunity especially for the National Board of Revenue (NBR) that can locate elusive taxpayers and also people maintaining multiple tax identification numbers (TIN) for discrete purposes; Department of Immigration and Passports that can consider cutting down on the layers of verification before a passport is issued; telecommunications operators that are better equipped to identify pre-paid customers so that they are not lost to competitors stripping the operator of the minimum revenue to even reach breakeven following high sales tax; commercial banks who can better identify clients and reduce risk of default and devote more time to customer relationship management and also facilitate m/e-commerce with a means to track fraudulent transactions.
Citizens did get a relief from carrying multiple documents for identity proof as soon as the paper based NIDs were issued in 2008. However, limited information on the existing ID and lack of “fool-proof” safeguards offered by the primitive card remain the evils causing significant duress to citizens whilst seeking to be served even through public resources. IDEA strongly heralds the beginning of a change of culture that will lead towards efficient and effective delivery of public and private service to serve citizens at least in exchange of their tax money. The mutual gain is shared by service delivery agencies in terms of reduced administrative burdens and reduced operating cost at least if not increased revenue. IDEA does not promise to change the nature of public service delivery overnight through a mere digitized national ID card. IDEA is only the initiation of ‘baby steps’ towards ‘Digital Bangladesh’ in action.
For more information, check out the Press Release