E-ID: Ambitious but ambiguous mega project

Despite some unresolved problems plaguing the tender process of the national electronic citizen identity card (E-ID) program, the Home Ministry insists that the show must go on.

The project, which was launched in February and targeted to be completed at the end of 2012, has been marred with technical glitches and corruption allegations. In a nutshell, it is a controversial and inefficient government project that lacked a solid grand design.

From the very substantial background of the program, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi has claimed that the project is mandated by the Law on Population Administration. The government, as stipulated in Article 101, is obliged to develop a database of citizenship identity numbers (NIK) in five years.

However, the ministry has misinterpreted the legislation and jumped to a conclusion, which looks to be a jump too far, by initiating the E-ID program as a project mandated by the law.

In fact, the NIK mandate is far different from the E-ID. NIK is an identity number for every citizen that is valid for a lifetime, while E-ID is an electronic form of ID card for Indonesian citizens aged 17 years old or older.

A 16-digit NIK serial number is used to identify one person among 237 million Indonesian citizens. It is a digital identification number for every resident that can facilitate services related to immigration, taxation, banking, insurance, population census for elections and ID cards. In other words, NIK is a basic citizen administration database used in several administration documents.

Regarding the main advantage of the program, the ministry argues that the electronic card, which is embedded with an eye biometric system and fingerprint detection will guarantee that every Indonesian citizen will hold only one ID card, because no one can share similar irises or fingerprints. It is true that every fingerprint and iris is unique, but it does not always mean that double citizen cards cannot happen.

Nevertheless, there is always a chance for a person to hold double or triple ID cards because the NIK system in the country remains in a mess.

The ministry contends that fingerprint and iris detection will help develop the NIK database, since everyone will be cross-checked before receiving the E-ID. Irises and fingerprints are used to identify the NIK.

Unfortunately it is a false assumption, because our NIK database is not yet reliable. Moreover, the government has targeted issuing only 67 million E-IDs by the end of 2012, far below the population of adult citizens. It means the identification process of 67 million people will not be effective to root out the problems related to population administration.

Forcing its will on such a debatable project in the middle of unresolved problems, the ministry seems to ignore public aspirations. It feeds assumptions that the government pursues only the financial values of the Rp 6 trillion (US$654 million) project.

There are many problems left unsettled related to the tender process of the project. A consortium of firms has reported the home minister to the Jakarta Police for allegedly abusing his authority in awarding contracts. The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) also warned the ministry about ignoring its six recommendations to keep the program free from corruption.

The pilot project of the E-ID program in several areas has proved to be infested with corruption. Based on their preliminary investigation, the police found that procurement of equipment for the program was tainted by graft, which is believed to have caused Rp 1 trillion in state losses.

Djoko Tri Atmodjo, former Cilacap Population Office head, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for misusing Rp 1.1 billion in regional funds for the allocation of Population Administration and Information Systems (SIAK) in the Central Java regency. A similar graft case took place in Hulu Sungai Utara regency in 2007. The cases only demonstrate that the E-ID project is highly vulnerable to graft.

In conclusion, the government should focus on developing the NIK database rather than the ambitious E-ID project. An integrated and valid system of citizen identification numbers will be more efficient to rooting out the population administration glitches in the country.

Farodlilah Muqoddam, The writer is a researcher at the Indonesia Corruption Watch.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Tue, 12/06/2011 7:00 AM


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