Why Accurate Identification Matters So Much Today
By J. Tiah Nagbe, MSF, ChFC
After months of planning and waiting, it is finally here: our special column on Liberia’s identification system. I do hope you enjoy this ride and I promise to be the best driver that I can be. I also expect others to jump in sometime and help me; and, if that happens, we should travel far and long – for about six months. For the first mile of the journey – our first article, we will look at the reason why accurate identification is so important to our lives today. If we do this very well, it will help you to understand the rest of the trip. Fasten your seat belts and welcome on board!
Having plenty people has good and bad sides
Those of us who believe in God start the story of the human race with one man – Adam. Those who believe in the theory of evolution will also have to start theirs with one person at some point in time. But from this one person we now have about 7.7 billion people that move around this one earth today. I don’t know how to explain 7.7 billion in simple terms. Even if I say that it is 1,500 times the population of Liberia, it will still not be simple for many people. So, just know that human beings are very, very, very, very plenty in the world today.
I can imagine that when Adam and his family lived on this earth, their life was simple in many ways, including finding people who broke the law. For example, when Adam found out that someone had eaten the forbidden fruit, it had to be quite easy to determine that it was Eve, since only two of them lived on the earth at the time. Similarly, when Abel was murdered by his brother Caine, it had to be simple finding out the murderer. So, in a way, we can say that having a small population was a good thing.
However, we may never have reached the level of human development that we see today, had we remained as small as Adam’s family. Think about it, could that first family have invented the airplane? Did they even have the need for it? Which airport would they have flown it to and who would have built that airport? Also, could they have invented the cell phone? Would there have been a need for a phone in the first place, to call whom? Therefore, we can see that a huge population has come with many great things as well.
But a large population is a two-sided coin, with both good and bad sides. The good side includes the fantastic human development. However, the bad side includes difficulties in fighting crimes, providing services to people, and more. One such challenge that a large population has brought about is how to accurately identify people. This problem is made more difficult by the fact that we demand speedy solutions and transact business in places that are far from where we live.
Among many areas in which this comes to play are banking, insurance and telecommunication services in the private sector; and salary payments, election, education, health care, electricity and water services for the public sector. Allow me to demonstrate this very important need for accurate identification with one example, using the banking sector.
NID helps Sia to withdraw money from the bank
A nice lady, called Sia Tamba, operated a large farm in Foya, Lofa County (149 miles/240 kilometers from Monrovia) for several years and then decided to move to Monrovia when her children grew older and started college. While in Foya, she saved a good amount of money with the local branch of a bank call Liberia Bank. The bank had only two tellers at that branch and they both knew Sia because Foya is a small community. Whenever she went to deposit or withdraw money at the local branch, the tellers simply carried out the transaction without asking her for an identification, because they were very sure she was Sia. In fact, they knew her entire family and had visited her house several times for special occasions, like Christmas and birthdays.
When Sia moved to Monrovia, she joined a population of 1.5 million people. To start a business in Monrovia, she visited the branch of the Liberia Bank to withdraw LRD 300,000. At the bank she faced a problem: unlike the Foya tellers, the Monrovia tellers did not know her. Therefore, when she presented the withdrawal slip for LRD300,000 the teller refused to pay without proper identification. First, she took out an ID from her Susu (savings) club in Foya, but that did not work. Then she asked the teller to call their branch in Foya about her. The teller said he did not have much time to make a call because there were others waiting in the line, and even a call would not convince him because the Foya teller was not present to confirm that the lady standing in front of him is the same Sia who has the money in the bank. So she did not get the money on that day.
The next day she went to the National Identification Registry office and applied for a biometric national ID card. After receiving the card three days later, she went back to the bank and re-submitted her withdrawal slip. The bank teller took her national ID card and entered the ID number into his computer. Within a few seconds, the big NIR computer sent Sia’s information to the bank and the teller’s computer screen showed the picture and other important information about Sia. This convinced the teller that the person standing before him was indeed Sia Tamba. The teller made the payment and went home knowing that he would not get in trouble; and Sia got her money to start her new business in Monrovia.
Yes, unique ID matters
I do hope that this story helps you to see the challenges that come with very large populations and the solutions that unique identification brings to the table in solving some of these challenges. As you can see in Sia’s case, three situations made it difficult to serve her. The first was the fact that by moving to Monrovia she became part of a very large population within which many people do not know each other, like in Foya. The second situation is that she had traveled far from her original community; therefore, it was difficult to verify her story by asking tellers in Foya. This is a problem that happens every day as people travel outside of their communities, cities, counties or even countries. The third situation is that today we demand speedy services. When she was carrying out the transaction, there had to be others standing behind her demanding to be served quickly. Therefore, the teller did not have the time to call the Foya branch and ask his co-workers to tell him more about Sia, to see if he could verify some information that would convince him that this lady was the owner of the account. It was a biometric ID that provided high degree of certainty that out of the 5 million people that live in Liberia, this lady was the one and only Sia Tamba, the person who had deposited her money with the Liberia Bank in Foya.
Next week, we will look at how unique identification is created for each person and how it helps to solve problems for different institutions and sectors of our society.