PARLIAMENT: A heated competition between two companies, Muehlbauer High Technology and Veridos Identity Solutions, for the contract to process data and print identity cards for Ugandan citizens is causing a stir, with the House Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs caught in the crossfire.
With the first batch of national ID cards due to expire at the start of next year, a mass registration and ID card renewal exercise is expected in the coming months. This exercise is significant because verifying voters during the 2026 General Election will depend on the ID cards. Therefore, to ensure transparency and fairness, the government is expected to outsource a competent company.
The two-horse race between Maulbauer and Veridos has ignited a bidding war, with Maulbauer pitching a section of members of the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, resulting in the recommendation of Maulbauer to run point on the deal in the ministerial policy statement.
However, a minority report presented by Mr Bashir Sempa Lubega (Mubende Municipality) threw its weight behind Veridos, questioning Maulbauer’s competencies over carrying out a “mass enrolment” project. Ms Rosemary Nyakikongoro, the chair of the parliamentary committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, claims those in the Veridos camp are questioning Maulbauer’s ability to carry out the project.
Ms Nyakikongoro stated that Shs117.8b would be made available for mass enrolment and that an Shs298.2b project would develop a new system and undertake mass registration of 17.2m unregistered citizens in the national identification register and renewal of 15.8m national identity cards that are due to expire.
Hon. Richard Sebamala (DP Bukoto Central Constituency) said this debate is misleading legislation and procedurally wrong.
In the share holding agreement it was agreed that all security printing, to include, Driving permits, National IDs, Passports, Certificates and later number plates for Cars or plots will be implemented by USPC (a joint venture of VERRIDOS and UPPC) under the UDC shareholding arrangement
“Veridos and Uganda Press Printing Company ( UPPC) came into a joint venture under UDC, a new company called Uganda Security Printing Company limited was formed (USPC). In USPC Veridos has 49 shares and UPPC has 51% shares on behalf of the Ugandan government. Government provided land and Veridos provided 2.3 million Euro as share capital to the joint venture. NIRA is the vote holder but has to respect the 10 year sovereign agreement of 460 bilion to be invested by Veridos over 10 years by using USPC to implement the ID project.” Sebamala said.
Maulbauer set up the current system that the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) uses, but some criticize it for being outdated. Ms Nyakikongoro says that procuring a new system and disregarding the existing one will be more expensive, and that upgrading the existing system will introduce new IDs with a chip and data recovery of the ID at an exchange rate of $380. Ms Nyakikongoro added that, when the committee visited Veridos, they were told that by the time they finish the construction of the factory and produce the necessary materials for the identify cards, it will be in 2027. It was also made clear by the committee that Nira will need Shs12.67b to recruit staff.
Mr. Sempa, however, faults the committee’s top brass for engaging in the procurement process by telling the government what to do. Mr Lubega further stirred a hornet’s nest by questioning how Maulbauer came into the picture. Mr Abdu Katuntu, a veteran MP, reminded the House that constitutionally Parliament “is not mandated to do procurement.”
The issue has created a divide in the committee, with accusations flying back and forth. The House leadership is struggling to bring the situation under control as MPs wash their dirty linen in public. The controversy has become a Pandora’s box that the House leadership is struggling to contain.
As the debate continued, it became clear that the issue at hand was not just about which company should be awarded the contract for processing data and printing ID cards, but also about the process of procurement itself. Some members of the committee felt that the leadership had overstepped its mandate by engaging in vendor selection, which was a violation of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act.
Others argued that Parliament had no mandate to do procurement, and that the committee should focus on its role of policy-making and oversight. The debate also touched on issues of transparency and fairness in the procurement process, with some members expressing concern about the allegations of corruption and favoritism that had been raised.
The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among intervened to try and restore order to the proceedings. She reminded members that the issue at hand was a matter of policy, and that the committee should focus on making recommendations that would benefit Ugandan citizens. She also urged members to refrain from making personal attacks on each other, and to maintain a spirit of civility and respect.
In the end, the committee voted to recommend that Muehlbauer High Technology be awarded the contract for processing data and printing ID cards. However, the debate highlighted some of the challenges and complexities of the procurement process in Uganda and the need for greater transparency and accountability in this area.
It also underscored the importance of ensuring that government contracts are awarded based on merit, rather than political or personal considerations. The issue of processing data and printing ID cards may seem like a minor one, but it has important implications for the upcoming national election and for the ability of Ugandan citizens to access essential services and exercise their rights as citizens.