Lawmakers in Parliament have summoned Interior Minister Noor-ul-Haq Olomi to answer questions on Saturday about the government’s continued delays in rolling out the new computer-based national ID card program, which is said to be ready for full implementation.
“We have included the issue on our agenda, discussed it on Saturday and also summoned the Minister of Interior to report on the reasons for delaying the distribution of IDs,” House Speaker Abdu Rauf Ibrahimi said.
According Homayoun Muhtat, the head of the Ministry of Interior’s (MoI) department dedicated to the digital ID program, the persistent delays have led to financing issues and that forced them to dismiss 188 out of 296 employees. The dismissals have made a full rollout of the new ID cards impossible for the time being.
“At the moment, I can not comment whether foreign or internal pressures delayed the ID distribution, however, all preparations have been made to launch the distribution and we have informed the government regarding all aspects of our program,” Muhtat said on Monday.
According to sources in the MoI’s department, several letters were dispatched to the presidential palace asking for an explanation as to why the program was being delayed, but no response was made.
Of the total 1,083 employees working for the MoI on the new ID program, 296 of them have received super scale salaries provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other European donors over the past two years, but 188 of them have been sent home amid budgeting concerns.
While it is clear the downsizing of staff is partly to blame for the delay, it is unclear what initially led to the reneging of aid commitments. It i also unclear when the government plans to get the program back on track. For now, the 787 employees the MoI’s ID department keeps in site offices around the country are being paid by the Ministry of Finance (MoF) for work they have yet to do.
Meanwhile, civil society activists have stressed the importance of the new ID system for upcoming elections. “I can say with confidence that we can’t hold transparent elections and can’t revive public trust in the election process unless digital IDs are distributed to the people,” civil society activist Mir Ahmad Joyenda told TOLOnews.
MPs expressed a similar sentiment on Monday. “They have taken the digital ID distribution hostage, and our concerns must be met in this respect; games shouldn’t be played with the future of the people,” MP Fawzia Kofi said.
The digital ID programs as originally expected to be rolled out under former president Hamid Karzai.