PNG minister defends controversial national identification program

People lined up outside the registration office in PNG's capital, Port Moresby were frustrated by delays. Picture: ABC News: Bethanie Harriman

PORT MORESBY, 27 JUNE 2018 (ABC) – Papua New Guinea’s Planning Minister has defended the country’s controversial national identification (NID) program amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

In 2015, PNG’s Government announced it would attempt to register all its citizens in a central database and issue them with photo cards for voting and identification.

In the years since, only around 500,000 of PNG’s approximately 8 million people have been registered, the card printing machines have broken down and the bureaucrat who administered the scheme has been accused of stealing and mismanaging millions of kina.

The Government has already spent around K230 million ($AU95 million) on the NID program and has further allocated another K2.3 million (AUD$1 million) in this year’s budget.

PNG citizens will need the card to get a mobile phone sim, a driver’s licence or a passport.

In the next election, the cards will be needed to vote and those living along the PNG-Indonesian border will also need a national ID card to go into West Papua.

But people lined up outside the registration office in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby, told the ABC they were frustrated by delays and facing obstacles to signing up.

Oli Jack said people waiting for their NID cards or birth certificates feel they have to bribe officers to get the job done quickly.

“We are not supposed to pay them, they are fortnightly paid to do their job, we are not supposed to give them extra cash. We need our things on time,” she said.

“Maybe [bribery] will be the last resolution, but if I don’t have any money, maybe I have to wait. Right now I have to open a bank account, that’s the most important thing.”

Lucas Allan has been going to Port Moresby’s Konedobu NID office for the last six months and said he had been pushed around.

“I came here and they told me that ‘your birth certificate is mixed up with other birth certificates and you can come yourself with your NID number so we can locate your certificate’.”

Other residents said the queues were so long they gave up on registering for the scheme entirely.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said NID cards would be crucial for the next national elections in 2022.

He said forcing people to register before they vote will help the country avoid the failures of last year’s controversial election, when violence disrupted a vote already marred by reports of thousands being left off the electoral roll.

“We want to tie this issue to the National ID program, so every Papua New Guinean must have an ID card and of course that will ensure that the common role will be in order before we go to the elections,” O’Neill said.

PNG’s National Planning Minister, Richard Maru, has defended the program despite the difficulties.

“We have provided funding in the budget so we can buy the machines, we are going to look at rolling it out at the district level where they can issues the certificates and cards.”

In February, the country’s Chief Statistician Roko Koloma barricaded himself in the National Statistics Office to avoid arrest after he was accused of stealing millions of kina.

Koloma has since been removed from the NID program but has taken out a court order avoiding arrest.

Minister Maru said the allegations against the Chief Statistician are a police matter.

Two months ago, the scheme stalled entirely in Port Moresby because the card printing machines broke down.

The PNG Government has since bought two more, fixing at least one of the scheme’s many problems for the time being.