Interview with rep from Uganda National ID firm
News | April 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
A German firm, Muehlbauer AG, was awarded the tender to make the Ugandan identity cards and update the Voter’s register for the forthcoming 2011 elections. The company recently launched its operations in Uganda. KD’s Edward Ronald Sekyewa got an opportunity to talk to Project Manager Mr. Matthias Ritter about a range of issues regarding this venture.
KD: What is Muehlbauer and what fields do your company focus on?
ID Firm: We are a precision company. We supply the car industry and manufacture machines as well. We supply the aerospace industry.
We are machine manufacturers and we make our designs, we make software development for our machines, for example the smart card technology, we produce chip cards and our own mechanical parts.
We manufacture documents like driving licenses, passports, telephone cards, GSM cards, credit cards and we are developing software for data handling and data management. We developed software for SDMS (Secure Document Management System).
We have sister companies which are engaged in different related fields like visual inspection systems which can be installed on machines.
Our company was founded in 1981, so next year we shall be having our 30th anniversary. We started with the German health insurance smart cards and public telephone cards with chips.
We are currently supplying the personalisation chips for the German drivers’ license.
KD: What do you think makes your company better positioned than others to deliver the services you have been hired for by the Ugandan government?
ID Firm: We are the only company worldwide which can supply all the required services from one hand. We manufacture our machines and develop our software.
Things like the fingerprint identification system, visual identification, etc are made by us. So the government of Uganda does not only have to talk to us and we deliver instead of having a project managing company which does not produce its own machines but goes out-sourcing.
KD: There were reports that there was some influence-peddling which enabled your company clinch the deal with government. What can you say about that?
ID Firm: The only thing I can say about it is that this project was under the national security aspect, so the government of Uganda came to Muehlbauer and asked if we can supply them with a complete secure national information system to which we agreed.
KD: But the Ugandan procurement procedure was not observed in this deal!
ID Firm: Usually with such national security information systems, even in Germany, the company which is doing that is the German state printing house, for security’s sake, this company was also directly contracted by the government.
So the Ugandan government came directly to Muehlbauer probably because of the security issues involved in this process.
KD: There have been reports that this deal’s price tag of shs 185 billion is been highly over-priced given the fact that Tanzania with a bigger population did the national ID project at a cost of 53 billion and Kenya at 41 billion. Why is it costing Uganda so much?
ID Firm: You have to compare the provided technology, I unfortunately do not know which company carried out those projects in Kenya and Tanzania, but for the sake of a secure biometric ID cards, which is a poly-carbonite with a life span of 10 years, our price is reasonable.
The products in those countries may be of cheaper material with a shorter life span which is not very advantageous in this aspect, may be they have a PVC card or others which are much cheaper.
But we are going to make our cards out of polycarbonite which is used in Germany as well. The other issue is the short time-frame in which we have to complete this project. We have only four weeks to capture all the data for voter registration which leads to a slight increase in the price.
Our system can be used for future projects like e-government. We are going to provide a solid basis for biometric data management in this country.
KD: The look of the card has been criticised as one which does not depict the beauty of this country.
ID Firm: The card is a security document which has got so many security features which cannot be copied.
What people have seen was just a presentation but the final product is going to look different with changing colours such that if it is seen from one angle it looks green and from another angle looks red.
KD: Another issue recently raised is the use of a barcode instead of a chip in the ID. It has been argued that a chip can carry more data than a barcode, and for that price, we could have gotten a chip rather than a barcode. What is your comment about that?
ID Firm: In this area of the world, a bar-code is more recommendable than a chip.
To use a chip, there has to be infrastructure in place, but that infrastructure is not yet in place in this country.
In the project we are carrying out with the Electoral Commission, we have to develop an offline system because in the whole country there is no online system which would have made it easier for us and for the usage of a chip.
On top of that, if we were to have chips instead of the bar-code, it would have been much more expensive. And in any case, the system can easily be upgraded if the need for a chip comes up.
KD: How long is the ID project going to take?
ID Firm: According to the information I have, it is going to be two years, until the next census
of 2012. By this time, all Ugandan citizens must be documented and each Ugandan must have a national identity card.
KD: Does your company intend to go into other business in Uganda other than what you have been hired for?
ID Firm: Right now, we are in Phase 1 of our project which is the updating of the voters’ register and in this period, we are not going to do anything else other than fulfilling this task. However, we shall be open for other things thereafter.
KD: What was the German government’s involvement in your acquisition of this contract?
ID Firm: We were helped by the German Ambassador to Uganda whose job is to take care of interests of German companies and individuals in this country.