The National Registration Bureau (NRB) and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services exist to provide citizenship services to eligible people as part of their mandates. While the former provides citizenship services to Malawians through registration and provision of birth certificates to newly born babies and issuance of citizenship identification cards, the latter focuses on non-Malawians who have renounced their citizenship and have decided to take up Malawi citizenship.
Looking at the two organisations’ core mandate, it is clear that both of them deal with the provision of citizenship services in their areas of jurisdiction.
However, what differentiates them, irrespective of the fact that they both process security documents in the form of national identification cards and travel documents, respectively, is that the former is a civilian organisation while the latter is a security organisation.
This is why, from the time NRB commenced its operations in 2017, many non-Malawians have managed to acquire national identification cards because its process is not secure enough to prevent fraudsters or impostors from beating it.
However, this is not the case with Immigration, where such people are easily caught because its system is secure and its officers are well trained in identifying them.
The citizenship identification card, or the NRB card— as it is simply called— has become a very important form of identification in our everyday transactions.
As for the Department of Immigration, the card has become the only acceptable form of citizenship identification in the passport application process without which one cannot get a Malawi passport.
Previously passport applicants were required to bring letters of citizenship confirmation from their village chiefs and have their passport forms signed by district commissioners but this is no longer the case, with the coming in of the national identity card.
However, the danger with the trust that the Department of Immigration has placed in this card is that it can help non- Malawians acquire the Malawi passport easily.
Just recently, immigration authorities in Blantyre arrested Somalia national Ibrahim Sapa for trying to acquire a Malawi passport after presenting the national identification card as evidence that he was a Malawian. This is a danger to national security.
In fact, sometimes, serious crimes attributed to Malawians abroad have not really been committed by Malawians but by impostors who got both the national identification card and Malawi passport.
This is why I want to ask the government to seriously consider attaching NRB services to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services because security lapses at NRB are seriously affecting immigration work.
What the government simply needs to do is to amend the Citizenship Act to give the Immigration Department the mandate to provide services that NRB provides because we cannot have two government institutions offering services that are similar in nature. This is exactly how immigration departments in countries like Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Mozambique and Angola, just to mention but a few, operate.
Attaching NRB system and services to the Department of Immigration will also help passport applicants, who do not have the national identification card as proof of citizenship, to have their cards and travel documents processed under one roof without being turned back due to lack of the former.
Additionally, the idea will help Immigration officers intercept non- Malawians who try to get the Malawi passport because of tight security starting from the card processing stage. By doing this, the government could save billions of Kwacha in terms of funding to an institution which can easily be headed by the Chief Citizenship Officer in the department.
And, as the Department of Immigration is expanding through implementation of its functional review— which will enable it to have its own commission and have offices in all the districts of the country— it is only right and proper that the provision of NRB services be attached to them.
In fact, it is in rural areas where non-Malawians such as refugees are having easy access to national identification cards and it is, therefore, imperative that such work be handled by the Department of Immigration since it is a security organisation.
It shall not make any sense for them to open an office in Ntchisi, for instance, where demand for immigration services is too low, simply to issue passport application forms without incorporating NRB services to give officers work to do.
In conclusion, the much-touted government reforms programme cannot make any sense if it cannot address this problem. The two aforementioned documents are very important national documents whose production processes must be secure enough to preserve their integrity and prevent fraudsters and impostors from accessing them.
*The author is writing in his personal capacity
By Charles Chisi