MINISTER of Technology and Science Felix Mutati says government intends to create an electronic Identification which will result in enormous economic benefits.

And Finance Minister Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane says the ID will improve government’s ability to efficiently run schemes like student loans because it will be easy to trace beneficiaries and recover funds once they start earning an income.

Addressing stakeholders from various sectors, Thursday, Mutati said the electronic ID was at the centre of government’s digital strategy.

“We are at a point where as a country we can accelerate the digital transformation of the economy. So we need to put together to find a common solution to the challenges that we have faced in terms of securing the digital identity for the citizens. We shall call it ID. The delay in the implementation of this electronic ID has rolled back enormous economic benefits that we would have accrued to this country not only to the government and citizens but also to the stakeholders present,” he said.

“This electronic ID sits at the centre of the digital strategy that the new dawn government has constructed, now we don’t think this strategy will deliver results if the electronic ID is not secured. And what is this digital strategy? The digital strategy has been defined to be around five pillars. Crucial in this strategy is your digital platforms and here we are focusing on better government service delivery. How can we deliver the service to you that is better, emphasising of course on minimising the transaction of costs, creating convenience.”

He said the ID would eliminate multiple contacts with government departments as one would no longer be required to fill in various forms whenever they needed a service.

“How do we eliminate multiple contact, engagements in particular with every contact you have with the government. If you go to the Ministry of Home Affairs if you want a service, you will be asked to fill in a form or whatever it is called. When you come to the Ministry of Tech you will be called to fill in a form. So with each government department there are different forms. So how do we only have one form? You can only have that if you have got an electronic ID and so you fill in once. It eliminated multiple issues with the government and that’s what we are talking about in terms of digital platforms,” he said.

“If you take for example FISP, Social Cash Transfer and indeed other services that the government provides to its citizens, we have perfect systems that have been done by Smart Zambia but because they are not integrated, it is possible to harvest from every system. A citizen can harvest from FISP, SCT, CEC, and indeed everything else. But with the ID, once you enter a government system, it will give you what you are entitled to and when you go next door, it will say ‘kulibe’ (you’re not entitled). When the government distributes a benefit to citizens, let it touch many citizens and not a narrow section of the citizens particularly those that have perfected the art of securing from every pillar.”

He said getting into a cashless economy was key and that could only be done by eliminating multiple verification and processing in the banking community.

“The other pillar is digital financial services and digital inclusion. Here, the challenge we face, apart from the ID is that because you don’t have an electronic ID, what’s happening is that the banking sector each is performing Know Your Customers (KYCs). So ABSA performs, this one performs, this one performs and as a consequence, because this is not shared information, it creates a loophole for you to be able to run a facility because it is based only on what you know. With the ID, it will pop up, he entered the banking sector only once, same detail,” he said.

“So multiple verification and processing in the banking community will be eliminated and that is key to a cashless economy. You only create a cashless economy with that. India has 1 billion plus people and each one has got an electronic ID where all the services of the government are channeled through, where all the banking services are also channeled through. So we think financial services and inclusion will be assisted by the ID and minimize the requirement by the bankers to do your individual KYCs.”

Mutati explained how various sectors would benefit from the electronic ID.

“We think that with the electronic ID, for example NAPSA, your pension benefits, with that digital ID, you eliminate the possibility of multiple debt certificates and therefore multiple payments of pensions. So there is tremendous savings that you can make as NAPSA because these multiple debt certificates will be eliminated. So there is a critical benefit and you have to see it in this total. For ZRA, you will be able, once somebody enters your ZRA system, to know his historical transaction and be able to see whether actual tax has been delivered. So benefits in terms of revenue collections are huge. The Minister of Finance wouldn’t be struggling with a bankrupt economy because ZRA is not collecting sufficient funds,” said Mutati.

And speaking at the same event, Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane said the ID would be a trusted form of identification.

“Have you wondered why we need two documents to be able to vote? You need your NRC and you need your voters card. It costs money to get these two items to the state that must provide them but also takes a lot of time for the citizens to be able to acquire these items. Why is that the case? I believe it is a case because a national identity card, the NRC, is not trusted to be an absolute document. It is not trusted because there have been cases where on one number, there can be one, two, three or even four individuals and if you are going to vote on the basis of the NRC alone obviously your system is going to be flawed,” he said.

“I’m hoping as head of the treasury for now that what is going to come out is an identity system that everyone trusts that if you have such an identity you are good enough to vote and no one else can vote using your name or identity. That way we are able to save enough money.”

He hoped that the ID would help address challenges of failure to trace beneficiaries of student loans.

“Yesterday we were talking about providing a bit more money to university students for bursaries. We are working towards enhancing the loans schemes for students so that as they go to universities or colleges they get their qualifications and when they start working they pay back over a long period of time so that those who are coming behind can also benefit. But today, that is a problem because for those who have graduated and joined the government, it is easier to identify them, we are able to make deductions for the benefit of those that are coming behind. But I’ve been told it is a problem for those who join the private sector or those who are working for themselves. So I’m hoping that among the things that are going to come out of this is for each one of us to be identified easily for anything that is of common good to Zambians,” said Dr Musokotwane.