The widely publicised launch of the new information management system aimed at consolidating the citizens’ personal records makes a lot of sense for planning.
All along, we have operated an archaic and cumbersome information system, where citizens’ personal details are kept by various agencies — such as Kenya Revenue Authority, National Transport and Safety Authority, Immigration, National Hospital Insurance Fund and the Registrar of Persons.
Yet that can be synchronised to eliminate the numerous record-keeping processes and papers and in that way save citizens the agony of moving from one office to another in search of all manner of documentation.
That is what happens elsewhere. Data about an individual citizen is collected and consolidated.
That is why the National Integrated Information Management System (Niims), more popularly known as “Huduma Namba”, is an idea whose time has come.
However, Niims has not been properly explained to the public. Communication about it is episodic and disjointed.
Unfortunately, that has allowed naysayers to craft a different narrative. Some religious leaders have even equated it to the dreaded Biblical number 666, the so-called “Mark of the Beast”.
Such misrepresentations can kill an otherwise noble initiative.
While launching the registration on Tuesday, President Kenyatta was quick to debunk such untruths and misconceptions and, for a good measure, explained how it had helped to catch cheats in government employment.
Perfect. But our argument is, proper public education and awareness should have started early and the messaging consistent and simplified.
What is the purpose of having a common number? How does it serve the public interest? What does it entail to get it?
Besides, we are concerned about the speed. Registration is an ongoing process and, even though the government wants the first phase to be concluded quickly, 45 days — one-and-a-half months — is not feasible.
Not when the public has not been properly sensitised and the right infrastructure put in place across the country for smooth implementation.
Tied to this is the question of data privacy and integrity.
Data protection is a pertinent human rights question. Creating a common database for citizens’ personal records is excellent.
Nonetheless, the government must do it in a systematic manner; protect the data, facilitate public communication, adequate information and sequence it in a way that does not make it look punitive. The proposed data protection law has to be prioritised.