Ethiopian Revenue and Custom Authority Collecting Fingerprints
Addis Ababa, July 20, 2009 -- The Revenue and Customs Authority (RCuA) has collected about 6,600 taxpayers' fingerprints in the first week of the about 70 million Br worth National Identification System (NIS) Project, launched early last week under the first round of this project and financed by the World Bank, plans to collect fingerprints from over 1.6 million people in Addis Abeba.
The project consultant that signed a contract agreement with RCuA in October 2008, Copycat Ethiopia I.T. Plc, has deployed 150 of its employees who, using the mobile registration units, collect the fingerprints that will be transferred to the RCuA's central database from every collection centre across Addis Abeba. The first person to have his fingerprints stored in the system last Tuesday is Melaku Fenta, director general of the Authority.
The every other day blackout schedule seems to affect the project very little according to Copycat officials. "Regardless of power interruptions, we are making good progress in collecting fingerprints from taxpayers," Prashant Byndoor, general manager of the IT company, told Fortune.
The Authority plans to finish the data compilation within 45 to 60 days in the capital city. Some taxpayers, however, seem reluctant to give their fingerprints because the system is new and they may doubt the very purpose, an authoritative source involved in this project told Fortune. Others are nervous about previous legal difficulties being flagged by the Authority. This has caused tax authorities to doubt whether they can finalize the first phase within the time line they have prepared, according to this source .
For instance, Tefera Mengistu, a criminal investigator with Ethiopian Cargo who has been working in the inspection and investigation area for over 10 years, sees potential for the fingerprints to be utilized in criminal investigations, issuing passports or visas, and identifying pensioners. He feared this could lead to potential privacy issues, as people's information, given for tax purposes, could be used against them.
On the contrary, Wondemagegn Tola, 26 and owner of Auto Spare Parts Plc, automobile parts importer located in the Meskel Flower area, appreciated the new National Identification Number (NIN) technology.
"This latest development in the tax collection system is a milestone in avoiding inaccuracies, blunders and limitations by the RCuA," Wondemagegn said.
He also suggested that RCuA should intensify promotion on the issue.
"I don't think people are fully aware of what the new tax system means. It incorporates both fingerprinting and photographic documentation for each registered taxpayer," Wondemagegn said referring to the data collected from him. "The Authority is expected to intensively promote the process to the general public and inform them what it means for the development of the country."
Students, in all campuses of the Addis Abeba University, specifically under the government's cost sharing provision, are obliged to be registered under the new system as part of the government's monitoring mechanism to control possible abuses to the programme. These include failure to pay back student loans.
Employees of government offices are also under the obligation.
People registering with the tax Authority fill out a one page form giving personal details and imprint from the tips of both index fingers. The fingerprint system uses Biometric technology which utilizes a scanner and digital photography to make identification easier to verify.
"Biometrics is a method unique for its ability to recognize individuals based on one or more intrinsic physical or behaviour traits," Mulu Ewunetu, member of the project management explained to Fortune.
Biometrics technology is often used as a form of identity management and an access controlling mechanism. It is known for its special characteristics of fingerprint, hand and palm recognition methods, according to him.
Between 2003 and 2004 more than 433,000 tax payers in Ethiopia used the Taxpayers Identification Number (TIN) as administered by the Authority.
Developing countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda followed the trend set by the TIN.
"TIN system was notorious for its inability to deal with those who change a single alphabet [in their name] thereby altering an individual's identity. For instance if a hypothetical tax payer, Zeru, wanted to change his identity he could record his name as Zerue or Zeroo," Mulu elaborated. "Five years back, tax payers used to put their addresses on the individual document, which was not appropriate for it was ineffective in performing the tax collection activities," he added.
According to Mulu, in light of all the shortcomings with TIN, it is time to use modern Information Technology equipment.
"The Authority is in the process of engaging its staff and its constituents with more proficient technology by adding some biometrics features [fingerprints and photographs] onto the previous TIN system," Mulu explained to Fortune.
Eventually the new system will be launched in different parts of the country and similar data will be collected from tax payers out of Addis Abeba. Currently, however, fingerprints are being collected in Kirkos, Lideta, Kolfe, Nifas Silk and Bole municipal districts. The Authority has not disclosed the definite time when Dire Dawa Town Administration and other regional states will implement the project.
Source: Addis Fortune