Monday, 27 December 2010

How EIDA could've been better implemented

For those of you living in the UAE, you would've seen the whole mess that has been associated with the implementation of the National ID card (EIDA) that the government's been trying to implement.  The horror stories regarding queues of people trying to apple for their EIDA card, deadlines being shifted and passports being retained by typing centres show just how and where the implementors of this scheme failed to have proper foresight in launching this.

The idea of an ID card is not something revolutionary and definitely carries along with it many advantages (though those who feel it violates it civil rights may feel otherwise).  EIDA, when fully implemented would be good as it saves you from having to carry your passport around when at a government office, applying for a telephone connection, opening a bank account or carrying a separate e-Gate card around with you at immigration.

Having grown up in Hong Kong and being a Hong Kong ID card holder, I've seen how the whole process works and it is much less painful than what the UAE's going through right now.  A recent example that most people from Hong Kong would be aware of is when the government in Hong Kong decided to effectively upgrade their ID cards in 2003 and issue everyone a "Smart" ID card.  Hong Kong may be a small place but with a population of over 7,000,000 people, it's certainly had a greater challenge than the UAE in implementing such a scheme.

Just like in the UAE, there were special application centres that were setup all over Hong Kong which were put in place to handle the throngs of applicants that the government expected to receive.  However, where the real difference came was in the way these centres were used.

In the UAE we've literally seen a free for all at times when we've had everyone rushing to apple for their EIDA card everytime a deadline looms.  The special centres setup are overloaded and simply can't handle the load.  These has led to rather ugly scenes at times and if you look at the accumulated value of productive time of people wasted, you realize the UAE economy would've been much better off having these people at work instead of worrying about waiting in a line at a typing centre or EIDA application centre.

In Hong Kong, they did things rather differently and intelligently.  They spread out the process over a period of four years and within this setup mini-deadlines.  Each mini-deadline was based on the year a person was born and if you then knew when to apply based on when you were born.  This avoided immediately the big rush that you see in the UAE.  By knowing also how many people are in each age group, the government knew also how long to keep the window open for each age group to apply.

Communication of these mini-deadlines was also very clear and everyone knew exactly what the process involved.  Even if you weren't sure when it was your time to apply, there were more than enough available resources at the time there to guide you.  If you missed it (as I did), not a problem, there was an efficient process to manage this as well.  The end result was that I applied for HK ID card in 20 minutes.

I was lucky enough to apply for my EIDA card a few years ago now and I had gone to Fujairah to apply for this.  Apart from the two hour drive there and back, I found the process to be very efficient.  There were two people applying for their EIDA card on the morning I was there and I was done in less then 30  minutes.  The people who worked there were very nice and even suggested I recommend more people come to Fujairah to apply as they were not fully occupied there at that time.

This then makes you think.  EIDA applications started now about two years ago and the government has certainly spent money in having EIDA centres setup all over the country, they've got well-trained people working there but had they found a more effective mechanism of implementing this scheme, we wouldn't have seen the ugliness of applying for it as we're seeing today.

Furthermore, the communication of this has been confusing to say the least.  Multiple spokespeople, multiple government departments and multiple interpretations have only gone on to confuse people further.

Sure, things can't always be compared with Hong Kong but if the UAE wants to increase productivity and make life easier here for people, they have to re-think how they go about implementing such programs in the future.