LONDON: The official launch of the National Database and Registration Authority’s new ID Card — the Smart National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (Nicop) — descended into a complete ruckus on Sunday night as Pakistani journalists and community leaders walked out of the launch ceremony.
Tariq Malik, Nadra’s new Director General, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan and various senior Nadra officials from Pakistan and Europe were present for the launch, dinner and musical evening which was attended by over 200 invited guests.
Tariq Malik, Nadra’s new Director General who took charge a couple of days ago, told the gathering that the Smart card is a 3rd Generation chip-based identity document that is built according to international standards, has over 36 physical security features that uses latest encryption codes making it the safest card in the world.
He informed the audience that Nadra plans to open its public facilitation centres in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford and Glasgow and later will expand into the rest of Europe. But ugly scenes erupted when Nadra officials refused to take questions from media and community leaders about various aspects of the new scheme and made it to the dinner hall, where singer Raheem Shah performed with a live band.
Journalists protested that there were too many controversial and critical issues surrounding the launch of the new scheme and it was important to ask searching questions and that Nadra officials must address the anxiety of the community as they had deep-rooted security concerns about their personal details being manipulated and fiddled with.
It was then agreed that Tariq Malik will answer questions of journalists after the dinner. The new Nadra DG gave an assured performance before the journalists and did his best to provide satisfactory answers but he admitted that there were some areas about the bidding process and the takeover by the UK based company in which he had no involvement and decisions were made at the top. But he assured that stringent action will be taken against the partners if they failed to meet the strict criteria set by the Nadra, failing which their contract will be terminated after a year.
It also became clear during the launch that the company that International Identity Services (UK) Limited (“IIS”) made responsible to assist Nadra actually belongs to the son of Mian Afzal Khalid, a veteran Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader in the UK who is also Chairman of PPP’s Federal Council (UK).
It was not immediately clear how, of all the people and companies, the contract went into the hands of a diehard PPP leader. Mian Khalid, who was present at the launch along with other PPP leaders, told The News that he had nothing to do with his son’s business. “Politics has played no part and my son has secured the contract on the basis of merit,” he said.
Tariq Malik said that Smart Nicop will provide 2.5 million overseas Pakistanis in Europe with priority travel, banking facilities and increased security as well as the existing visa-free entry to Pakistan.
He said Nadra’s top concern remained protecting public information and no one other than a select number of Nadra staff will be allowed access to the data of citizens.After The News highlighted the issue of the Nadra contract for issuance of the Nicop cards, Nadra was at pains to point out that IIS has been awarded the contract to provide marketing and support facilities for the centres, with all processing for the Smart Nicop being carried out by Nadra, with approximately 500,000 Pakistani holders of the existing card in Europe will eventually need to upgrade.
But it was not clear immediately whether the community will happily pay more than three times the amount it is currently paying for the same services. Pakistanis in Europe have felt the fee was raised without consulting them in times of austerity when economic conditions in Western Europe have made Pakistanis amongst the worst hit migrant groups.
Both Nadra and IIS said that the decision to make IIS a partner was followed by a public tender “under internationally recognised procedures and was made after extensive consultation with key stakeholders” but the latest discovery of a senior PPP leader’s involvement in the scheme will raise further questions about the whole tender and bidding process, therefore the questions around the whole scheme are unlikely to go away.
Tahir Khalid, head of operations for IIS said in a statement: “The new Nicop card is a milestone for Pakistan. The launch has been a carefully considered journey for IIS and Nadra, which was necessary given the highly sensitive nature of this product. IIS has worked to meet all the demands of Nadra without compromising data security and we are looking forward to promoting the benefits of Smart Nicop to local Pakistani communities.”