Ahead of the LG Polls Identifying 500,000 untagged Lankans!
STORY AND PIC BY RAVI LADDUWAHETTY
This may sound like a Ripley's believe it or not! Over 500,000 Sri Lankans are believed to be without their National Identity Cards.
Believe it or not, of them, over 300,000 are confirmed in the Local Government Registry, who are billed to vote at the forthcoming Local Government polls but, who also do not have their National Identity Cards, says the Commissioner General of the Department for Registration of Persons, Viyani Gunatilleke, a Sri Lanka Administrative Service Class One Officer and a Business Management Graduate of the Sri Jayawardenapura University.
What was all the more startling was that he dropped a bombshell when he remarked that no research survey has yet been undertaken by his Department to ascertain the true figures of those without their NICs, when the writer threw the question in his face on Thursday morning in his 13th floor office of his brand new 15-storeyed high-rise at Battaramulla, where the Department was relocated from the earlier Keppetipola Mawatha, Colombo 5 (off Jawatte Road) office due to lack of office space.
The writer also attempted to contact him and the Department for a week. All telephone numbers were incessantly engaged. The entire country was trying to get through to him and his officials from every nook and corner of this country. There were/are only three contact numbers to the entire Department. The writer had a nightmare for a week in attempting to access him. The best way, he thought, was to go there and meet him. Sanity has prevailed. The new PABX Exchange with 100 lines with hunting facilities will be installed this week!
So, it is also on a discordant note he struck when he spelt out that most people of the grassroots level were not really interested in procuring their NICs as most of them also did not have even their Birth Certificates! Even the Birth Certificates also did not mean or matter to them, who carry on with their lives regardless of what happens around them! This is in sharp contrast to the urban and metropolitan areas, where the basic documents, the BCs and the NICs are mandatory in order to continue with the daily chores in life.
But some stop gap operation is being worked out to provide the NICs for the 300,000 plus Sri Lankans who are without their NICs and who are billed to vote at the forthcoming LG polls as their names are there in the LG polls registry. The Commissioner-General has given explicit directions to all 332 Divisional Secretaries countrywide to issue them with the NICs albeit their not having their Birth Certificates. However, the rider is that they have to supplement their applications with three signatures of three close relatives and also buttressed by the details of three area residents, who will confirm in writing their presence and existence at their respective areas. So, there seems to be a tamper proof methodology to ensure transparency!
He also clarified that among these 500,000 people who do not have their NICs, are people who have never had an NIC all their lives while there are also a large number who have got them, but lost it in the process.
The minimum age at which one is eligible to apply for an NIC is 15. It was earlier 16, but has been advanced due to the need for facilitating the NICs for the GCE Ordinary Level exam students. It is indeed sad that the Department has notified all school principals as early as January 2017 to implore their students to apply for the NICs but that also has not been done yet, he noted.
There have been efforts some time ago where the Grama Niladharis have gone on a door-to-door campaign to canvass their getting their NICs but the resistance is high. These are people who live in the periphery and they do not see any need for such identification. But the DRP had been adamant in carrying out with door-to-door mobile campaigns to convince these villagers to get their NICs
The Department has also embarked on an ambitious programme to launch a Smart Card, which now comes in all three languages, fortified with some security features as well. This is in consonance with internationally- rated requirements.
The smart card NICs are machine readable. The department has also got the fingerprints of the new applicants where even in Airports and other points of entry or departure will have all the details of the holder of the card which will be made use of in necessary times. There will be a photograph which will be inserted to the cards which meet the standards of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
It is a 100% Poly Carbonated Card with also a laser beam as well. There are over 12 security related features in each of the cards.The programme started on 27 October and the DRP has already issued over 100,000 cards.
The laws of the country demand that all Sri Lankans above the age of 15 have to hold the NIC within a year, irrespective of what excuses the holders have for not getting them. Responding to a question as to whether they could be arrested for not being in the possession of the NIC, Gunatilleke said that the maximum fine now is a mere Rs 500 in accordance with the Registration of Persons Act No. 32 of 1968. However, funny as it may seem, the laws also say that the Commissioner General has also the discretion of halving the fine to Rs 250!
Expanding branch network
There is no issue with regard to the deficiency of the network of the branches at all. There are as much as 14,022 Grama Niladhari Divisions in the country which coordinate between Colombo and the periphery. The Department also has started an ambitious programme of expanding the network from the existing network of Colombo, Batticaloa and Vavuniya.
They will be expanded to Kurunegala, Galle and a few others in a programme to have a Branch office in each of the 9 Provinces first and then in each of the 25 Districts with the passage of time. That will mean that the systems will be and online where the applications will be electronically transmitted to the Commissioner- General for his signature and dispatched back to the periphery, which will fast track the process, in contrast to the system now, where outstation residents have to come to Colombo to avail themselves of the one day service.
When the documentation is done at the periphery, the Commissioner-General could provide the final authorization also electronically and the printing could be done in the periphery.
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