The World Bank (WB) has dealt a blow to the National Identification Authority?s (NIA?s) controversial bid to raise a $155 million from China to upgrade its operations.

According to the bank, it had already provided a much lower amount of $29 million for the same purpose.

The NIA insists it will go ahead to secure the whopping $115 million to undertake a so-called ?integrated system upgrade,? despite intense public criticisms and opposition.

In a recent press conference at the Ministry of Information, the NIA?s Executive Secretary, Dr. Josiah Cobbah, explained that the amount would be used for constructing NIA offices across the country and upgrading its biometric data collection machines from four fingers to 10.

However, last Tuesday, the World Bank released a statement indicating that in 2013, it approved an amount, approximately $29 million, needed for the integrated system upgrade that the management of NIA is using as a basis to secure a $115 Chinese loan.

The Executive Director of Think-tank, IMANI, Franklin Cudjoe, described the NIA?s determination to go for the $155 Chinese loan as a ?scam.?

Alerting President John Dramani Mahama about the possible scandal, he said, ?Do not allow your Cabinet to approve the $115m scam cooked up by the National Identification Authority for an exercise that is currently needless? the New NIA project is evil and please disassociate yourself from it?.?

Details of this facility has been sketchy and mostly confined within the ranks of a few people in the top management of the NIA and its newly appointed private partner ? Identity Management Systems (IMS) ? headed by one Moses Baiden.

The John Mahama-led administration has indicated that the NIA was pressing for this huge loan on its (administration?s) blind side.

The Deputy Minister for Communications, Ato Sarpong, recently shocked critics by stating that the John Mahama administration was not aware of the NIA?s plans to secure the $115 million.

?That was not a government decision. Government has not heard of the facility and did not approve it? it?s not even true the proposal is before parliament because it would have to go through Cabinet for consideration before it gets to parliament,? Ato Sarpong recently told Accra-based Starr FM.

Meanwhile, the World Bank release available to DAILY GUIDE indicates that the $29 million will build a ?Robust National Identification System?.

The amount is part of a $97 million approved by the World Bank Board of Directors to support Ghana?s on-going actions to improve the efficiency and coverage of government service delivery using Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

Under the project, the NIA?s $29 million will assist the government to link key agencies, including the Births and Deaths Registries, the Department of Social Welfare,  Electoral Commission, Statistics Department, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), Immigration Service, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), etc., using the national identification number as a common identifier, the World Bank?s statement read.

Justifying what critics have described as wastefulness, Dr Cobbah, a known staunch member of the ruling National Democratic Congress, has insisted that the $115 million would be used for ?integrating all existing biometric databases within the public service, help establish regional and zonal offices, establish a biometric institute to be affiliated to a public university, procure mobile registration vans??

Interestingly, these are the same projects that a much lower World Bank facility is billed to take care of. In the statement, the bank indicated, ?The project will support distribution of 12 million biometric cards, including three million cards that have already been printed and nine million cards that will be printed, once a citizen?s data is confirmed. The project will review and update the back-office systems and processes under NIA to ensure that the electronic ID system is properly functioning and the central office interacts seamlessly with field offices and downstream agencies. To improve the speed and reduce the cost of distribution of cards, project funds will finance the deployment of mobile registration workstations, mobile verification systems and related software. Project funds will also support an integrated solution that ensures that new Ghanacards meet international standards.?

Judgment Debt

DAILY GUIDE has picked up hints that President Mahama has warned the NIA to back down on the planned loan from the Chinese EXIM bank, but the management of NIA has turned deaf ears to this warning and are feverishly pushing through the loan deal, having already asked its private partner, IMS, to commit $1.5 million that some NIA staff alert may become a judgment debt if the deal is cancelled.

A recent release from some executive members of staff of the Authority, calling themselves Concerned Staff of NIA, indicated that the NIA had asked IMS to commit $1.5 million to pay a German company called Dermalog, to expand its facility to hold a database of up to 40 million individual data of Ghanaians and foreign residents in Ghana.

??our bosses have clandestinely asked IMS to pay Dermalog Germany an amount of $1.5m on behalf of NIA for expansion of the FIMS database to hold 40 million records. The plan is to justify that IMS has already committed funds to the project and if the Government stops IMS, they can go for judgment debt; and this position was openly stated by the CEO of NIA in a meeting with IMS and their lawyers,? the statement read.

Unexplained Wastefulness

The NIA, which was set up in 2003, has been seriously fraught with scandals bordering on perennial mismanagement of funds and non-payment of staff salaries, leading to apathy and resulting in the Authority?s failure to issue millions of ID cards to Ghanaians, even though the requisite data for these ID cards have been collected several years ago.

DAILY GUIDE can confirm that several millions of cards are still sitting in the NIA?s offices as Ghanaians yearn for their national IDs.

The government has sunk a huge amount of money into the NIA since 2006.

The total amount is estimated at $100 million. The breakdown includes the erstwhile New Patriotic Party (NPP) government?s $30 million sunk into the project in 2006, and an annual government subvention since 2007 through 2011 of about $60 million.

According to Franklin Cudjoe, there is an erroneous perception that government subvention to the NIA is only $20 million so far.

According to the clearly peeved IMANI boss, the subventions to NIA are approximately $60 million, ?not the GHc20 million people are quoting. We must dig deeper,? he urged.

Of these amounts of money, this paper can confirm that the NIA since 2008, has only been able to distribute less than one million cards to the over 15 million individuals? data collected from Ghanaians.

Dr. Cobbah explained in a recent response to questions about the NIA?s unexplained failure to distribute the ID cards sitting in their offices as due to ?technical challenges and prohibitive distribution cost?. But this explanation has been rubbished by critics.

The NIA was set up in 2003 with the sole mandate of collecting data of both Ghanaians and foreigners resident in Ghana for a comprehensive national identification system which database will help ease government business and help it roll out a number of electronically aided systems, including voter ID cards, National Health Insurance Scheme and for the police and other security agencies to be able to effectively fight crime. But the system has stalled for several years under unexplained circumstances.

By: Raphael Ofori-Adeniran

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