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Missing Ghana cards: matters arising

The other day, my good friend Sam called me. In recent times, I have learnt to brace myself for a long session whenever I see his call, because I know that inevitably, I will receive an earful of complaints, whether it is about the economy in general, port tariffs, the exchange rate, or on one occasion, a ‘sakora’ haircut his investments had received, ‘with the compliments of a broken bottle rather than clippers’, as he put it.

I was not disappointed. He was in a foul mood and did not even have time for pleasantries. I could foresee a long conversation. Actually, a monologue. Luckily I had some time on my hands when his call came through.

In recent times, I have mastered the art of being a stoic punching bag when friends want to vent about a national issue and feel I am the closest convenience. Maybe I should claim a Punching Bag Allowance from government for my troubles…

Lost Ghana Card

Sam’s ‘beef’, in modern youth speak, was that sometime last year he lost his Ghana card and needed a replacement. After obtaining a police report to that effect, providing his biometric details all over again at the National Identification Authority (NIA)’s Achimota office and filling the relevant forms, he says he was told to go home and await their call. After almost a month of silence, he says he went back to the office in November 2022, only to be told the card would be ready in two months. He is still without his card and says nobody is able to tell him when it will be ready.

Thus crippled, he is unable to access certain important services without the physical card. Queue frustration galore, with poor me at the receiving end of his ire. When I was able to finally get a word in edgeways, I had to ask him to slow down while reminding him gently that I do not work at the NIA, nor do I have the Executive Secretary of the institution on speed dial on my mobile phone.

Perhaps I am being naïve, and I crave the indulgence of the Information Technology(IT) experts on this, but I would have thought that for replacement of cards, it would be a simple matter of capturing one’s fingerprints and/or name and date of birth, retrieving the details from the system, checking that it is indeed the said person and then printing the card. There is no reason, to my feeble mind, why this cannot be done at any NIA office.

For instance whenever I have lost my Automated Teller Machine (ATM) card, all I have had to do is go into a branch of my bank, fill a form and wait while a replacement card is printed and issued. This takes about 10-15 minutes, maximum. Perhaps this is a tad simplistic compared to what is stored on one’s Ghana card file, I agree, but I fail to see how this is a Mount Everest of a challenge that must be left to fester. I sincerely believe it is not a matter of lack of technological wherewithal.

Sam says in the period he has been without his card, he tried to access a banking service, having already linked his Ghana card to his banking details. Here, he says he came up against a brick wall, with the bank insisting that he had to present his physical card.

His argument was simple, that ordinarily, once his details are captured by both the NIA and the bank, it should be possible for the bank to plug into the NIA systems using his fingerprints or other details, to be able to verify him, and that it should not be necessary to produce the physical card at all times. I see his argument, with the disclaimer that I am no IT expert. I however find it difficult to accept that in the 21st century, this is an unattainable miracle.

In other words, not only does it take a long time to get a replacement card, but the rigidity with various service providers linked to the card makes the delay even worse and can present real frustrations to the public. Perhaps an ability to still access certain services despite a delayed card replacement process would soften the blow that the delay presents.

Improving systems

According to a news item dated September 19, 2022 published on www.graphic.com.gh, the NIA, according to its Executive Secretary, Prof. Ken Attafuah, had issued 15,826,148 Ghana cards out of the 16,627,325 printed cards from 17,109,627 registrations as of the end of August that year. The report stated further that according to the NIA, some 1,283,479 cards remained uncollected, for various reasons, including some needing updates, people unable to locate their collection points, while others are also not showing up to collect them because they “feel they have no need for them now”.

By any stretch, the number of cards issued so far out of applications made for them is remarkable, and the NIA deserves plaudits, but as primary school teachers are wont to write on some pupils’ terminal report card, ‘there is more room for improvement’. The institution has admitted thus on several occasions.

But for an irate customer such as my friend Sam, who justifiably feels that getting a replacement of any state-issued document, whether a Ghana Card, a driving licence or a passport should not cause great frustrations, these statistics understandably mean nothing and only one impression of the NIA lingers. As you can imagine, it is not a complimentary one.

The NIA must, as a public service provider, continue to work hard to improve its service delivery through innovative measures on the back of public feedback. The unfortunate perception by some that public institutions go out of their way to make it difficult for the public to access their services must not be allowed to fester.

Meanwhile, having been educated by Sam’s experience, I have taken the precaution of taking my Ghana Card out of my wallet and keeping it somewhere in the dark recesses of my ancient but reliable portmanteau at home. It will only see sunshine when an absolute need arises because I do not relish walking in Sam’s shoes in this matter as things stand.

After all, what is it they say about your neighbour’s beard on fire and a bucket of water?

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Energy, Accra.
E-mail:rodboat@yahoo.com

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