Smart ID card rollout underway

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More than a decade after government first proposed a national smart ID card system, it has been officially launched and national rollout has begun.

Despite numerous attempts, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) did not respond to enquiries on the exact budget allocated to the smart ID card rollout. However, in May, home affairs minister Naledi Pandor said in her budget vote that the smart ID card will form part of an overall IT modernisation programme, for which more than R348 million had been allocated in this financial year, up from the R214 million for last year.

A few weeks later, the DHA awarded a R40 million contract to Altech Card Solutions to provide the Government Printing Works (GPW) with card personalisation equipment, while a contract estimated to be worth R199 million was awarded to Gemalto Southern Africa to supply pre-printed polycarbonate cards, containing a contactless microchip.

The department recently announced that the cards will be issued free to 16 year olds who are first-time applicants, while all other applicants will be expected to pay R140. According to communication deputy DG Vusi Mkhize, this amount, which is the same as the cost of the old green ID book, was determined by “all the cost drivers involved”.

An approximation, based on available figures, shows that South Africans will thus be contributing an estimated R5.2 billion to the smart ID card rollout.

According to Stats SA’s latest figures, the South African population stands at an estimated 52.98 million, of which 29.2% are 15 years old and younger. This puts the ID-carrying population at around 37.5 million, each of whom will have to cough up R140.

Opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party shadow minister of home affairs Manny de Freitas responded to the announcement of the R140 ID fee by saying government should be issuing the first smart ID cards for free to all South Africans, seeing as this is an entirely new system and having an ID document is mandatory.

He, however, noted that budget constraints are very much a reality. “There is no way the ministry will be able to afford to issue the [smart ID] card to millions of people. That’s the bottom line; they won’t have the budget for it,” said De Freitas.

He says there is currently a system in place where citizens can apply to get a free ID, provided they can prove they cannot afford it. “I have never experienced problems with that system, and this should still be in place with the new [smart] ID,” he says. By the time of publication, the DHA could not confirm if such a system will be available.

Past and present

The smart ID system was officially launched last month at a ceremony at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, where former president Nelson Mandela’s smart ID card was symbolically handed over to his daughter, Zinzi Mandela, as he was still in hospital at the time. Other first recipients of the smart ID card included president Jacob Zuma, Kgalema Motlanthe, Thabo Mbeki, FW de Klerk, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Sophie de Bruyn, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg and Frene Ginwala.

Two weeks after the launch, Zuma presided over a ceremony at GPW where four smart ID card printing machines were named after women leaders Sophie de Bruyn, Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa. The ceremony was held in honour of the women’s march to the Union Buildings in 1956, led by the four women leaders, to demand an end to the pass laws and all restrictions that had been put in place by the successive racist regime against the majority of the people.

With all the formalities dealt with, rollout to the general public has now begun in earnest. Pandor says the first batch of smart ID cards will be delivered to senior citizens of ages ranging between 80 and 90 years and first-time ID applicants. Thereafter, South Africans will be invited to the DHA offices in stages according to dates of birth.

Smart security

The primary reason behind the introduction of the smart ID card is to clamp down on identity fraud. Government has continuously lauded the security features of the smart ID card, saying the card will be “almost impossible to fabricate”.

Eric Billiaert, communications director for government programmes at Gemalto, concurs with this statement, and says the card will be very difficult and expensive to forge.
“The card body is not a single piece of plastic, but rather several layers of polycarbonate fused together,” explains Billiaert. “This means the picture and other information of the holder is not printed on the surface, but laser-engraved in the body. If someone tries to delaminate the card, they will break it.”

The second feature relating to security is software, says Billiaert. Each card will have a microchip containing all the information of the holder. Even if someone managed to alter the picture on the card, the forgery will be picked up by the microchip.

Billiaert says Gemalto has included biometrics to boost security even further and make the card more versatile. “If the holder’s fingerprint is stored on the microchip, one can validate the identity of the person handing over the card by scanning his fingerprint and comparing it with the one stored on the card. There is no need for a huge database of fingerprints; you can simply check if the fingerprints match,” he says.

Gemalto provides the same technology to more than 18 national programmes in countries such as Belgium, Portugal, the US, India, Finland and Sweden. “The technology is used for various identification purposes, drivers’ licences, residents’ permits, census programmes, validating of legal documents, voting, etc,” says Billiaert.

Clamping down on identity fraud is, however, not the only purpose of the high-tech card. The DHA has said additional uses for the card are being considered, such as securing state pensions.

The department has also said it will, at a later stage, consider a central ID programme that will not only overhaul the National Population Register, but deliver a platform to enable other departments’ e-government services, and offer identity services to private sector entities like banks, insurance companies and more.

The smart ID card launch was preceded by a massive conversion of millions of records from paper to digital, done by Johannesburg-based identity verification company Muvoni Technolgy Group. This included the integration of multiple information systems and software, as well as the digitisation of more than 30 million paper-based fingerprint records.

According to Muvoni CEO Vhonani Mufamadi, all fingerprint records were paper-based, while demographics were digitally stored on the National Population Register. This meant significant integration was involved in streamlining the two information sources.
“Previously, identity verification was a labour-intensive and time-consuming process, requiring cross-checking and referencing of electronic and paper-based records,” says Mufamadi. He was unable to disclose the budget for the project, citing a confidentiality agreement with the DHA.

Private sector impact

When announcing the rollout plan for the smart ID cards, Pandor said the private sector would benefit from the cards by knowing exactly who they are transacting with.
“One of the phases for us to work through is that of ensuring those businesses, banks, the insurance industry and other partners have the necessary equipment to verify smart ID cards,” said Pandor. Mkhize says the department is still busy engaging with members of the private sector on the matter.

Investment analyst Chris Gilmour says, while a few companies will likely need to alter their equipment in order to be able to accept and verify the smart ID cards, he believes the financial implications thereof will not be enormous.
“If you look at the kind of technology we have in bank cards these days, the card readers being used are so smart, they should be able to read [the smart ID card] without much trouble at all,” he explains. “There shouldn’t be a massive cost involved in reading the smart ID cards, and if there is, the technology [the company] had gone for has been corrupt in the first place.”

Gilmour notes the smart ID card will also offer financial benefits to the private sector by cutting down on identity fraud. “The card should cut down a lot of the latitude people currently have when performing identity theft, making that type of thing a lot more difficult.”

Tender snag

It seems the roll out of the smart ID card will not be entirely seamless. A losing bidder for the smart ID card system has asked the Competition Commission to investigate the tender process for possible irregularities, reports City Press.

According to the newspaper, Grant Son, CEO of Batho Phahameng Consulting, has laid a complaint with the auditor-general (AG), the Competition Commission and the presidency after his firm was disqualified from the R40 million tender for the provision of printing equipment for the new smart IDs.

The paper reports that Son’s company scored the same number of points as the winning bidder.

Supposedly, a confidential bid notification from the CEO of the GPW, Anthony Mbewu, shows that Batho Phahameng and Altech both scored 98 overall in the bid adjudication – 90 points for price and eight points for black economic empowerment (BEE).

City Press quotes Son as saying he is curious as to how Altech managed to score eight points for BEE, the same as a 100% black-managed and -operated business. Son claims online records show Altech Information Technologies, of which Altech Card Solutions is a subsidiary, has four white male directors.

However, iWeek has obtained copies of Altech Information Technologies’ National Empowerment Rating Agency (NERA) scorecard, which shows the company has a Level 2 BBBEE status. Furthermore, the Altech board has a total of 13 members, of which two are black females and three are black males – one of whom, Moss Leoka, is Altech chairman.

Son is apparently also questioning how Altech’s technical documents were accepted, as he claims it was exactly the same as Batho Phahameng’s technical bid.

Batho Phahameng was using Altech as its technical partner for the supply of the card personalisation equipment, and Son says the department and bid adjudicators were aware of this agreement.

According to media reports, Mbewu responded saying Batho Phahameng “failed to accept mandatory requirements” related to technical aspects of the equipment and failed to adhere to other terms and conditions relating to pricing, and, in fact, submitted the incorrect version of the bid documents.



A spokesperson for the AG has allegedly said a separate investigation into the award will not be launched, but will form part of the 2013/14 audit process. However, the commission is reportedly investigating the merits of Batho Phahameng’s complaint.