MPs want cost of rolling out Maisha Namba made public

Julius Bitok

Immigration and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok on September 28. 

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

 MPs have asked the government to explain how much it will cost the taxpayer to roll out the Unique Personal Identifier (UPI) project after what they deemed underwhelming responses from Immigration and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Julius Bitok.

The October 2 launch of the project, also known as Maisha Namba, which seeks to replace the second generation identity cards, was postponed indefinitely.

While appearing before the Administration and Internal Security Committee of the National Assembly, Prof Bitok said the government intends to roll out Maisha Namba to replace the controversial Huduma Namba.

But members of the committee chaired by Narok MP West Gabriel Tongoyo were concerned after the PS failed to explain how much the project would cost.

“This committee seeks to know the cost of the UPI, what has been paid so far and the balance,” said Mr Tongoyo.

“The people are asking how much was spent on Huduma Namba that you want replaced and how many cards were released to Kenyans,” Sotik MP Francis Sigey said.

Already, the Public Accounts Committee has directed Auditor-General Nancy Gathungu to undertake a special audit on the exact amount the government pumped into the now-abandoned Huduma Namba.

Kisumu West MP Rozaah Buyu sought to know why the government is ditching the Huduma Namba project.

“Billions of shillings have been spent on the Huduma Namba project already and you are here telling us that it is being abandoned. Are you trying to reinvent the wheel? Are you starting a new project because it is a new government?” asked Ms Buyu.

However, Prof Bitok avoided responding to the questions on the cost of UPI, only saying that Huduma Namba failed because of poor execution and the failure by Parliament to pass the relevant laws. He explained that the State intends to use data captured in the Huduma Namba registration for the UPI project.

“It was a good idea that was presented in a bad way,” the PS said, adding that Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki, his boss at the ministry, has already gazetted rules and regulations to cushion the roll out of the UPI number from possible legal challenges.

When pressed by Mr Tongoyo on how much the UPI project will cost, the PS said that only the National Intelligence Service can explain.

“We haven’t estimated it. The budget is with the National Intelligence Service,” said Prof Bitok adding that the ministry was also yet to “cost the Huduma Namba” project.

This comes as it emerged that the government pumped in over Sh10 billion to register at least 38 million people in 2019 for Huduma Namba, which was designed to be a unique and permanent personal identification number to be assigned to every resident upon enrolment or at birth.

There were to be Huduma cards for minors aged between six and 17 years, for adult citizens who have attained the age of 18 and for resident adult non-citizens.

The card was meant to serve as the official proof of identification in the country and having one was to be mandatory so as to access government services.

But the card was never issued to a majority of those who registered for it. The few who have it cannot use it for anything.

By July 2021, at least Sh9.6 billion had been spent on Huduma Namba registration during the first phase that started in 2019. In the 2021/22 financial year, Sh1 billion was allocated for the second phase of registration, pushing the cumulative cost to Sh10.6 billion.

The card was to include details of the enrolled individual’s name, sex, date of birth, Huduma Namba, nationality or residence status, place of birth, photograph and date of issue. It was also designed to be a primary database for both foundational and functional data, from which every other database with personal data of citizens and residents was to be built.

At the time, the government promised that the Huduma card would help create an efficient identity system that would present opportunities for fiscal savings, development of the digital economy and enhanced public and private sector service delivery.