The National Registration Bureau (NRB) in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security has embarked on an exercise to issue national identity cards to citizens of the country aged 16 and above.
In the first phase, NRB will issue 5,000 IDs which will also help the bureau to do a test of its concept of providing national IDs eg the procedures, logistics, capacity, training among other issues. NRB has selected 27sites in 11 districts: Lilongwe, Mchinji, Dowa, Salima, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Thyolo, Mangochi, Chitipa, Mzimba and Nkhata Bay. At each sitenot less than 200 Malawians will be registered and be issued with a national ID. The registration process will involve vetting to ensure that only bonafide Malawians are registered.
Thereafter, the bureau will embark on a second phase which will target 95,000 Malawians before embarking on a mass registration targeting 9 million Malawians in 2017. The Government of Malawi and development partners are currently mobilizing resources for the mass registration exercise.
This is a very important exercise for MEC as we prepare for elections in 2019 more especially as the electoral body intends to develop an electronic biometric voters’ register (EBVR).
In the run up to 2014 elections MEC had intended to introduce an EBVR but stakeholders raised concerns on timing though they agreed with the concept. This was postponed to be implemented now.
After the elections in 2014, UNDP hired a consultant, Africore, to conduct a feasibility study on implementation of the Biometric Voter Registration System. The consultant recommended that MEC should work in collaboration with NRB in coming up with a reliable National Population Register from which the MEC would then extract its voters’ register.
Stakeholders agree that MEC should migrate from the current system of Optical Mark Recognition because it has been fraught which challenges like missing or misspelled names, missing or transposed pictures.
The arrangement is that when MEC commences registration of voters for 2019 elections, registrants will be required to bring the National ID issued by NRB for identification.
MEC will still be required to conduct its own voter registration exercise despite the mass registration by NRB because the electoral body will need to come up with a voters roll for each polling station and for those who will be 18 years and above on the polling day . The voters roll helps planning for logistics like number of ballots papers to print, staff to deploy and quantities of polling materials to provide for each centre.
Further to that voting is not compulsory in Malawi and people will have to express their intention to vote by registering with MEC and at a centre where they wish to cast their vote.
MEC registration staff will copy the National ID details of the registrant which will be used to extrapolate the biometric details from the NRB database to build the voters roll.
The collaboration with the NRB will greatly reduce the volume of work and costs that would have been incurred if MEC was to conduct the whole biometric voter registration process on its own.
This underscores the importance of every Malawian to register for the National ID as NRB embarks on this exercise. If they do not register with NRB it will be difficult for MEC to register them as voters for 2019 elections because the National ID will be the only means of identifying bonafide voters. Political party, religious, faith and all leaders should encourage their followers to participate. They should also help to ensure that only eligible persons get registered when NRB starts the exercise. If foreigners register illegally, it will be difficult to detect them during voter registration by MEC.