Ghana: Card registration problems persist as citizens fear lack of access to services

By Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Friday, 11 February 2022 13:08

People walk past the Bank of Ghana in Accra
People walk past the Bank of Ghana in Accra, Ghana, November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

The poor management of the Ghana Card system has citizens calling on the government to delay its plans to use it for SIM card registrations and all banking transactions this year. More and more public service institutions now require citizens to present the Ghana Card, but some who applied for this new form of identification years ago are yet to received it.

The Bank of Ghana has said the only form of identification it will accept from 1 July is the Ghana Card. This follows the bank’s 19 January statement that said the change is “to ensure that all financial transactions performed within the ecosystem are linked to one identity and information, and unique codes for the transactions shared with the Bank of Ghana (BoG) to facilitate the identification of initiators/beneficiaries for track and trace purposes”.

The Ghana Card is the country’s standard method of identification and now includes biometric information. From 31 March, the Ghana Revenue Authority will replace tax identification numbers to match the Ghana Card PIN and citizens will also be required to have registered their SIM cards to their Ghana Cards.

[The] majority of Ghanaians did not receive their cards after the first mass registration exercise in 2008.

According to the finance ministry, the card will “enhance revenue administration” and make online payments easier while securing citizens from fraudsters.  The government says the card can also be used to track consumers’ credit and could boost the financial sector by lowering costs and increasing banks’ willingness to lend, which could stimulate the economy.

Surveillance or survival?

Incidents of mobile-money fraud are increasing. Statistics from the cybercrime unit of the Ghana Police Service indicate that over 300 cases were reported in 2019, but many incidents still remain unreported.

The card is intended to enhance Ghana’s infrastructure, collecting personal data that can be used by the state for security and other purposes. However, there have been privacy concerns surrounding the card, and some citizens are apprehensive that the government will be tracking their activities.

The card will also be linked to SIM cards, bank accounts, passports, the births and deaths registry as well as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority. The National Identification Authority (NIA) website states: “Your inability to establish your identity in [the] future could make life difficult for you in Ghana since government policy seeks to formalise the economy.”

In October 2021, the NIA reported that over 15 million Ghanaians have so far been registered for the card, representing 84.3% of the population aged 15 and above. The previous year, the finance ministry had reported that 13,848,697 Ghanaians had registered for the cards.

In Ghana, the pushback against the ID has not been as significant as similar programmes in other countries, such as Nigeria, where deadlines for the National Identity Number (NIN) have been postponed several times.

Delivery troubles

The NIA has admitted that the “[the] majority of Ghanaians did not receive their cards after the first mass registration exercise in 2008”. Some citizens have complained that they have not received their new ID card for months or even years after applying, blocking them from voting and other important activities.

The electoral commission wants the government to change the law so that the Ghana Card will be the only document authorised to prove nationality in the next voter registration drive.

Dealing with disruption

Many actors are pushing to have the deadline for card registration extended, as there are worries of disruption in the financial and telecom sectors.

According to Daniel Sodimu, a sub-Saharan Africa analyst at FrontierView, this digitisation is intended to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas. He says: “At least 85% of the population has signed up for the Ghana Card, and it’s likely that the remaining 15% are more likely to be rural-based, with less access to registration centres. When we see these digitalisation agendas, one of the reasons is that it is meant to improve access and inclusion beyond the major cities.”

Those who have not registered their SIMs by 31 March will have their numbers blocked. In response to large queues for re-registration from the early hours of the morning, AirtelTigo Ghana has created registration points in public places including churches, mosques and lorry parks.

We still have a lot of the population unbanked – sometimes said to be as high as 50%…

In addition, foreigners who are in the country for more than 90 days will have to acquire Ghana Cards and then go through the registration exercise. Sodimu says: “The government will need to clarify this to make sure it won’t have detrimental impacts on industry and tourism, but on a positive note, this will allow the government and others to collect more datasets.”

The chief executive officer of FBN Bank Ghana, Victor Yaw Asante, has called on the central bank to extend the deadline for its directive on using the Ghana Card as the only identification card for financial transactions.

In an interview with the local news outlet B&FT, Asante said: “We still have a lot of the population unbanked – sometimes said to be as high as 50%, and we are trying to bring these people into the banking industry. So, anything that you add will become a more difficult problem; and so I believe a combination of all the available IDs should be good enough for a while.”

Bottom line

The government remains noncommittal regarding calls for an extension of the Ghana Card deadlines. In December 2021, the NIA proposed an extension of the deadline given by the Social Security and National Insurance Trust to merge the two numbers.

As long queues continue to be seen at registration centres, pressure is mounting on the NIA and the government. On 8 February, Ghanaians protested against the push for SIM registration with #NoCallsDay, inviting people to turn off their phones and fight back against the pressure to register their SIMs.

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