Ghani Looks to Expedite ID Card Rollout, Improve Program's Public Image

During a meeting in the presidential palace on Monday President Ashraf Ghani called on the administrative bodies responsible for the rollout of the new national ID card program to address recent criticisms of the program and the delays it has faced.

Director General of the Electronic National ID Cards Project, Humayun Muhtat, said that the president also spent time urging international donors to not cut their aid for the program. A number of donor agencies and foreign governments have raised questions about continued funding for the program after years of delays and doubt that the new ID cards will be fully distributed before the next round of elections.

President Ghani reportedly said his cabinet would ultimately be held responsible for the program’s success or failure.

Meanwhile, the president has ordered the management and technical committees for the program to focus on improving its public image through the establishment of information centers.

“The president emphasized […] that there is more work to be done regarding the process, and that it is to be presented in the cabinet session for consolidation,” Director General Muhtat said on Monday. “But the important point was that the president emphasized that people should be told that the ID card distribution administrations and the government are serious about this process. And the second point is that the information should be conveyed in plain language so the technologically complex issues can be accessible to the people.”

Ghani was also said to have advised the administrative committees to develop solutions to the problems they have raised, rather than just announce further delays. Looking ahead, it is likely many kinks in the program – as well as potential remedies – will emerge in the coming distribution test phase.

“With the beginning of the test stage for ID cards distribution, if our work does not stop for any reason or any problem, then we can say for sure that by the next presidential election, we can distribute ID cards for a huge number of citizens so they can use them in the election,” Muhtat said.

Election monitoring institutions have stressed the importance of the new indents fixation system for enhancing the transparency and accountability of the country’s electoral process. After the 2014 presidential election crisis, fears that the Afghan public has lost faith in the electoral system hare underscored criticisms of the delays in rolling out the ID program.

“If this situation continues, it will be a setback for the government,” said Mohammad Naeem Ayoubzada, Chairman of the Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA).

But, for some, the possibility of further delays in the ID rollout is less troubling than than continued failures in communication between the government and the public when it comes to the program. “My hope is that if there is any problem ahead of us the national unity government will share the problem with the people,” Afghanistan Democracy Watch Dorector Zakria Barakzai told TOLOnews.

Distribution of the new electronically-scannable national IDs was scheduled to begin over a year ago. The program was originally conceived under former president Hamid Karzai.

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