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Automated NICs from this month



Commissioner General

One of the state offices that was hardly affected over a period of time and new technology was the Registration of Persons Department (RPD). Popularly known as the NIC office, RPD is doing one of the most important and crucial tasks in the country that deals with its citizens' identity. Since its establishment in 1972 to the present day the operations of the department have only been done manually such as maintaining records of millions of registered people, which was confined to bundles of papers stacked in a room.


Conducting transliteration on a computer

Stacks of files at the record room

A handwritten NIC

Rear view with the printed letters
Front view of a new automated NIC

In a period when an employee identity card of a private company bears a magnetic barcode and the state driving license with an engraved electronic chip that holds the personal details of a person, the country's National Identity Card, the most important identification document one could possess, is issued handwritten by a clerk with the photo manually pasted on the card using glue. The amount of time spent to issue a card as well as the amount of mistakes generated in recording wrong details in mistaken identities was inevitable in this difficult and long process where space for forgery was ample.

History

For the first time in the country's history the RPD is going to convert its old manual handling process into an automated system which will be ready to issue its first printed NIC by the end of this month. The new NIC holds novel features such as the personal details including the name, address, date of birth and occupation of an individual printed on the back of the card instead of the old handwritten method. The photograph will also be printed on the front of the card instead of being pasted along with the personal registration number on top of it and the issued date, which was earlier keyed using a typewriter. The signature of the Commissioner General of the Registration of Persons that appears on the bottom front of the card that was marked using a signature stamp will also be printed on the card.

Moreover there will be a significant addition to the language policy followed by the authorities for decades. The NIC which was issued in Sinhala language for over four decades in a mix racial country of Sinhalese and Tamils will be issued in bilingual in the future. This policy came into effect since last year where the NIC of a Tamil national was issued in both Sinhala and Tamil languages whereas the NIC of a Sinhala national was issued in Sinhalese only. But according to the new system, the NICs of all personnel will be issued bilingual in clear printed font.

The next most important feature about the new automated system was to create a computerised database to record personal details instead maintaining stacks of paper proof or individual applications. The entire system of handling an application received by the department will be converted into a well monitored system until the issuance of the NIC with all the data computerised. Once the application form is received it will be date stamped. A group of data entry operators will then manually enter the details of the individual application form to the system including the name and the serial number of the form. Then the form which is in a folded paper will be cut into single pages to make it easy to scan. The application form will then be scanned through an image scanner to get the image rendered into the system.

Applications

Generally the department receives about 2,000 to 4,000 applications a day. Three data entry operators are trained by now to handle about 1,500 forms each per day. Once the application is scanned including the supporting documents such as the Birth Certificate, a second batch of staff would manually check whether they are in line with the requirement, and proper authentication. Once this is done the computerised application will be sent to four Assistant Commissioners of the department who would check again and grant the approval to issue the person an NIC. They have the sole authority to decide whether to or not to issue the NIC concerning the application and the supporting documents.

Once the application is authorised another group of data entry operators will enter the name, sex, date of birth, address and the occupation to the system. The second group will re-enter these details to avoid shortcomings. The personal data is normally entered in English which will be transliterated in Sinhala and Tamil by the respective management assistants. A third group will match these date previously entered by the two groups. All this was done manually earlier which will be done using computers now. Once the matching operation is completed the person will be registered by a number. The RPD has a unique way of registering people with a uniquely generated number through a special formula. Since the department was not advanced enough in the beginning of the seventies with no computer at hand they had to seek the assistance of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka who facilitated them with a computerised mathematical formula that created a unique number to each and every registered person.

Once the number is given the application will go to printing through the system. Once the NIC is printed on the special security proof paper it will be sent to Quality Controllers who would then examine for any typos, printing mistakes etc. They check whether the personal details are correctly printed along with the registration number and commissioner's signature on it. Once it is approved the card will be laminated and the edges would be cut to give a finishing. This of course has to be done manually using a lamination machine and a cutter. Once this part is completed the card will be scanned again to put into the system. When this is done the card will be sent to the applicant along with whatever the supporting documents given with the application. The computerised application will remain in a sophisticated database that can be reviewed at any time with the touch of a button. And the application will be sent to a record room.

Application

However this too could be averted in the future where the department can handle an application without using the paper. In future the applicants could submit their applications to the Divisional Secretariats where they will be scanned and only the scanned documents are sent to the department. This way the NIC issuance can be made paper free and the enormous cost of preserving old documents with a limited space is unnecessary.

Currently the department is faced with a problem of shortage of adequate Tamil Management Assistants. There are only 18 Tamil Management Assistants to transliterate whereas the department has requested for 75 officers. But this is yet to be fulfilled by the Department of Public Administration.

Explaining about this new automated card Commissioner General of Registration of Persons Department R M S Sarathkumara told the Sunday Observer that this was a requirement felt for a long time. To issue a clear printed card to the public except for the hand written old fashioned one was a great achievement in terms of creating a computerised database as well. This was not possible for a long time due to the old ways and means adopted by this department notorious for incompetency and inefficiency for decades. For years the past heads of department had not taken correct decisions for it to remain in a sorry state like this. It has become a place where the people were turned away for the slightest reason which could have been sorted out easily.

Many allegations were made against the staff who had solicit bribes to issue a simple NIC. And many rackets were reported where the identity card was being forged. There had been no good governance in this department for decades ultimately making its staff to miss their duties and eventually not to render a quality service. It is difficult to change the negative lethargic attitudes of the staff over night, but I'm doing my best to bring the department to a higher standard.

Efficiency

With this new system I have installed Close Circuit Television cameras in the department premises to monitor the efficiency of the staff. There are about 36 CCTV cameras operating presently and I don't expect the staff to adhere to them and change of attitude immediately but I have given them two months to prepare themselves to the system.

The cameras were installed in December and from February I will monitor them and take necessary action against those who do not comply with the department rules and regulations.

With the issuance of the new automated card, work will improve within the department. The automated card will come in line with the first phase of the ENIC Project, the Electronic National Identity Card project which is currently underway, and it will be put into practice by end of 2015, the Commissioner General said.

To meet a target of one million cards a year the department has to issue approximately 4,000 cards a day which is a miracle to achieve with the amount of resources and staff at hand. The department could produce the mentioned amount if a full staff work with no hindrance from machine breakdowns.

The benefits of the advancements in technology was never granted to this vital state department until now which had run in a pathetic condition for ages. But with the new automated NIC, everything will fall into place to render a fine service, Sarathkumara said.

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