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A NEW BIOMETRIC SYSTEM FOR IDs -- Some thoughts--‏

We should all understand and appreciate the intentions of our Government to try to establish a secure identity database for our country. The new system will help fight against identity fraud and theft. So, we applaud our Government for trying to do something positive for our country. There have been too many fraudulent documents coming out of Cameroon in the last two or three decades and this could be a serious first step in making a dent into tackling that critical systemic problem that has landed Cameroon at the very top tier of the most corrupt countries in the world.

 

That being said, when there is a good idea like this one, the process used to implement it matters too. And this article, we only address the process by which our Government is going about it. The intention of the Government is good, but the process has to be constitutional to ensure that too much power is not delegated or granted to any one man, the “Delegue General a la Surete Nationale”  is this case.

Why should M. Mbarga Nguele be the only one heading this contract with the French company responsible for implementing the new ID system in Cameroon? It was alleged that the President of the Republic personally instructed M. Mbarga Nguele, the “Delegue General a la Surete Nationale” to carry on this action. I have no doubt that M. Mbarga Nguele is perhaps very capable and competent to execute the job. But, this is not how our Government should work.

At a minimum, there should have been a task force created and headed by the Ministry of Territorial Administration, but also involving the Ministry of Justice –because the matter concerns our people’s identity-- and to some extend the Ministry of Foreign affairs if the contract is to be awarded to a Foreign country.  

The “Delegue General a la Surete Nationale” should be one party at the table, but not the only one making these critical decisions for the whole country, especially that he is not an elected official and does not hold a mandate from the people.

A modern constitution must clearly define the constitutional process and mechanisms by which the Government of the people is operated. And the process must identify the relevant and competent parts of Government that have jurisdiction over a given task or project. Why is the Minister of Territorial Administration not involved in this? Security and identification is clearly under the jurisdiction of this Ministry. Why is the Ministry of Justice not involved ? This program will collect critical and sensitive Personal Identity Information of all of our people, and the Ministry of Justice must ensure that due diligence and that the proper mechanisms are in place to protect this electronic information in this digital age.

Given that the contract involved a foreign company, --a French one for that matter--, why is the Ministry of Foreign affairs not involved as well?

Why have a non-elected official in low position our Government such as the “Delegue General a la Surete Nationale” engage and commit our entire country and an entire people directly with a company of a foreign country? Why aren’t the Cameroonian people --through the National Assembly-- having a voice in this critical process that will make all their critical identity and sensitive personal identity Information –PII—available to the this foreign French company ? How can we be sure that this Company will not hand over this information to the French Government or other parties that could harm our people and our country ?

People,

We end up with so many unanswered questions, because we still have a profoundly disconnected and dysfunctional system, setup by the colonial Master in the 50s, and fraught with deficiencies.

This is how the process should have worked in a modern country run by competent and smart people.

1-    Let’s say that the President has this brilliant idea to establish a new digital National biometric system to identify our people. Because this is a matter that implicates all the people of Cameroon in a very personal and sensitive way, the President should not be allowed to just decree this kind of decision. He must engage the people of Cameroon through the National Assembly which represents the people of Cameroon. So, the President --through the Office of the Presidency-- would draft a formal official request of intent and purpose in which he elaborates on the need and the objectives of the idea. This formal draft would then be submitted to the National Assembly for further review and examination.

2-    The President of the NA would then officially acknowledge receipt of the President’s intention and call the National Assembly to order. A formal draft of the proposal is made and submitted for debates to various committees at the National Assembly. During these debates, the proposal is amended and well elaborated in its statutory constructs. For example the debates will involve questions like:

a-     Why do we as a people need such an electronic biometric system? What do we intend to achieve with it ?

b-    How will the critical and sensitive personal Identity Information be protected? What are the mechanisms to secure and protect this vital National Database? How will the data be stored ? Where would the computer systems holding these databases be kept? In Cameroon or in France ? Who has access to this data? Who can use this Data and for what ? What is the process for a Government agency to query and gain access to this critical National data? What is the scope of usage of this data by the Government? What can’t the Government use this data for? These are just a few questions that must be debated by the National Assembly on Public Television, so the Cameroonian people get to see and understand what their Government is doing –presumably on their behalf--.

c-     During this debate, the Ministry or Ministries of our Government that are competent to execute the law are also identified. And the step by step procedures on how the project is to be executed are clearly defined and made understood by the competent parties. The process by which the contract is to be awarded is also debated and the criteria of eligibility for Companies to bid for this contract. Should foreign companies be allowed to bid? If so which countries? And what are the constraints that must be imposed of these foreign companies? Must they team up and work with a local company or people of our Government? Must they be required to train our people and give them all level of access and visibility into the implementation? Must they be accountable to the NA which can summon them for a hearing if necessary ?

d-    How is the Project funded? How much will it cost and how will it be paid for? Who must approve payments and who makes the payments? What are the verification and validation mechanisms before payments are made?  How long will it take to implement such a system? Six months, a year or two ?

e-     Once the proposal has been thoroughly debated, amended and improved, and all the questions have been answered satisfactorily, a complete draft of the law authorizing the legislative Branch –or the Government—is submitted for a vote. If it passes then it becomes law.

f-      Then at this point, the President is allowed to proceed with the implementation of his proposal that has now been approved by the people –through the National Assembly and/or the Senate—and become law.

People,

This is in a nutshell how a Democratic System of Government is supposed to work. A Government of the people, by the people and for the people is not an abstract concept. It must be enshrined in the constitution of our country –through power sharing and checks and balances—and operationalized in the processes and procedures that must be executed to accomplish a task on behalf of the Cameroonian people. All the Branches of Government must be actively involved in the process. The Supreme Court must examine the constitutionality of all laws and illuminate the people of any possible violation of the constitution at all times.

Democracy is not just multi-partism, it is much more than that. Just because we have 250 political parties –running their mouths on TV-- does not make us a democracy. A democratic process must be accompanied by a true power sharing and checks and balances between the branches of Government, and inscribed indelibly in our constitution. No one man should ever have all powers. Powers must be shared.

Always remember that underdevelopment is not about economics alone. Underdevelopment is mostly a reflection of the mental state of consciousness of a people.

When our people would have achieved a higher level of knowledge, when they would become collectively conscious on the need to build a better country than the one they inherited,  when, as a people, we begin to do an in depth analyses and examination of our system of Government, when we begin to make a complete assessment of the processes of our Government and find ways to optimize and improve on these processes, then and only then we will necessarily engender the progressive leap that will transform society for the better.

Colonial exploitation and enslavement may be the root causes of our problems, but they are also consequences of our state of collective ignorance and lack of mental rigor.

When we allow one man, by the whim of the stroke of his pen, to allow that all the critical biometric information, all the extremely sensitive Personal Identity Information of all of our people be put in an electronic database and managed by a foreign French colonial company, then we must pause for reflection and introspection. We must imagine all the possible risks that such a decision create and imagine a mitigation process that will minimize or eliminate the risks and the vulnerabilities of the decisions of our Government, even when well intentioned.

Remember that this electronic biometric database –presumably sitting in a French computer system-- can also be used to trace our people all over the world. It can be used to compile electoral lists. It can be used to determine how people voted and who they voted for. It can be used to declare the result of a very consequential election, and we can go on and on.. So because this is so critical to our country, our President, as well intended as he may appear, should not be only one making these kinds of consequential decisions. And a good President would abstain from using his powers in this way –even if the constitution allowed him--.

When we as a people will begin to be thoughtful enough about our processes of Government, we will begin to lay the foundation of good governance for our country. Where are the so called “Professeurs agreges de Droit” ? Where are the people of the Supreme Court? Where are the journalists? Where are the intellectuals of our country? Where are the members of the National Assembly and the Senate? Where re the thinkers of our country? This is the time to contribute to the perennial debate to free our country.

 

 

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