POMP AS NIRA USHERS IN BIRIBONWA AS NEW BOSS
By Mulengera Reporters
At about 10am on Thursday, a long convoy drove into the High Court parking lot near City Square. It comprised of two police patrol cars and a significant number of posh SUV vehicles. Inside these monster rides were the new members of Board of Directors for NIRA who were coming to take oath and be inaugurated during a ceremony that was presided over by Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny Dollo. Internal Affairs Minister Gen Jeje Odong, under whom NIRA falls as their political supervisor, was at hand to aid the DCJ.
Former EC boss Joseph N Biribonwa is the new Board Chairman with 8 other eminent citizens serving as members. They include Ruth Kavuma Nvumetta (V/C), NITA-ED James Saka, URSB’s Twebaza Bemanya, Dr. Paul Kintu, Dr. Chris Ndatira Mukiza, Dr. Betty Nanyonga Kivumbi (the Mak don who holds a PhD in Mathematics) and Maj General Apollo Kasita Gowa (who heads the Immigration Directorate which issues passports etc). It’s the 2nd Board for NIRA which began in 2015.
The Biribonwa-led Board members were accompanied by members of NIRA top management led by ED Judy Obitre-Gama. Other top management members included Manager Legal Advisory Services Brenda Kezaabu Agaba and John Wabwire who serves as Director Planning at the Kololo-based National ID Registration Authority.
After administering the oaths, Dollo made a brief speech in which he implored the new Board members to serve diligently because it’s such a honor, favor and privilege that out of the 40m Ugandans the President chose them to shepherd a sensitive entity like NIRA. “It’s a responsibility you must take very seriously,” said Dollo who was accompanied by Ag Chief Registrar of Courts of Judicature Tom Chemutai. As somebody who travels often, Dollo observed the Ugandan identification documents are still taken very seriously because the rest of the world perceives them as credible, something for which he commended NIRA ED Judith Obitre Gama for a job well done thus far.
But warning against complacency, Dollo highlighted areas that require improvement. These include hiring enough personnel while leveraging on ICT to ensure timely service delivery. Demanding that the ID issuance or replacement exercise gets fast-tracked, Dollo wondered “why should verification take forever and Ugandans get frustrated trying to obtain or replace their National ID documents?”
Dollo implored Biribonwa to ensure such ineptness ends in his regime as Board Chairman as Jeje Odong nodded in approval. “NIRA should also invest in sensitization of the public so that the young people get to appreciate the importance of having a national ID just like our parents used to keep their poll tax cards very securely,” suggested Dollo many of whose points were re-echoed by Odong in his subsequent address to the new Board at NIRA headquarters Kololo where members converged for more comprehensive orientation and interaction among themselves and also with the media. CEO Gama also served them a sumptuous luncheon and presented them with documentation aimed at acquainting them with the status of service delivery at NIRA which she has led since inception.
At Kololo where the convoy flamboyantly pulled up, EC Chairman Simon Byabakama joined the other board members having missed out on the Owiny Dollo session. Smartly-dressed members of senior management had been waiting and received board members ushering them into a room that had pompously been prepared to host them. Those receiving them included NIRA Director HR Sussie Mukiibi and Communications Officer Farida Nassozi (standing in for her boss Gilbert Kadilo). Inside the hall, Odong made a detailed speech in which he submitted on many things including the need to deepen decentralization of services by NIRA which besides IDs also issues birth and death certificates.
Referencing on the long queues of suffering Ugandans he saw in the NIRA compound and Pavilion as he arrived with new Board members, Odong said there was reason for everybody in the room to realize there is a lot that must be urgently done to “increase public confidence in the way we serve them as NIRA.” He added that the fact that of the 40m Ugandans, only 29m IDs have been issued by NIRA is indicative there isn’t much to be proud of. Reflecting on NIRA’s not so good public image, Odong wondered what happened to the progress that used to be registered when it still existed as the NISS project under Gen Aronda. “Those days we were one time rated the best in Africa but I can’t tell what happened. How did we deteriorate?” Odongo asked hasting to add these are questions nobody had to answer. “Just keep pondering over them as we prepare and determine to serve our people better leading to higher customer satisfaction.”
He tasked workaholic Biribonwa, who has significant knowledge about NIRA operations having closely interacted with the ID registration project while still at EC deputizing Badru Kiggundu, to prioritize adequate staffing because it’s the only way NIRA will serve Ugandans better and register better customer satisfaction. “Our staff structure is in place but not fully populated. Let’s prioritize that too.” He also demanded establishment of a disaster recovery center so that the very sensitive personal information belonging to 40m Ugandans doesn’t get lost from NIRA in case of any disaster. “Let’s also improve business processes and diminish the bad public perception because I don’t want to see large crowds waiting out in your tents like I have seen today. Let’s work towards decentralizing our services so that people can get their IDs and other documents soonest.”
Odongo also said NIRA needs to quality-assure all its processes so that agencies like the EC, that rely on their data, are able to deliver credible elections in 2021. “Its high time we established verification committees because it’s shameful that even the 29m IDs we have issued out so far have quality problems because some of them are foreigners. The LC letters can’t be enough for verification anymore because they aren’t uniform and standardized. It’s how we end up with wrong people non-Ugandans getting our IDs.” Corruption is another challenge Biribonwa must tackle and very decisively because, as Odong asserted, it’s the reason some people take 6-12 months before ever getting their IDs issued yet some take just two weeks. He said NIRA will only escape criticism if it improves “because national IDs these days is a very critical document.”
He called on NIRA Board to also look into possibilities of additional security features being added onto the ID making it hard to forge by forgers at Nasser Road. “We must also deepen digitalization of our services and increase the authenticity of our documents because IDs is now a tool to fight crime.” He told Biribonwa “I also look forward to getting policy option suggestions from the Board on how we can support you to improve the business processes at NIRA.”
In his brief remarks, Biribonwa vowed to do his best to “ensure we change the way we do business in this place and improve public perception of the way we serve them.” Saying he would ask management to explain the public perception problems, Biribonwa said; “We can’t hide in the boardroom here and pretend that the public isn’t suffering out there.” He promised to deepen decentralization of NIRA processes so that all its services can 100% be accessed in the districts upcountry without having to travel to Kampala.
Biribonwa also vowed to ensure the Gama-led management benchmarks on the Immigration Directorate to understand how they manage to print and issue passports in such short time. He said it was unacceptable for citizens to wait for 6 months before their IDs can be issued or replaced. He asked about the NIRA Strategic Plan (in case any such document exists) and vowed to use it to lobby for increased funding so that the staff structure becomes 100% populated as Gen Odongo demanded. Biribonwa also pleaded with Gen Odongo to ensure no bureaucracy is involved in getting audience with him “because we shall be regularly coming to seek your guidance as we move to improve the way business is done in this place.” (For comments on this story, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org).