ICT CS Joe Mucheru questioned over NIIMS project

ICT Cabinet Minister Joe Mucheru was forced to explain why the government is quick to implement the Sh6 billion digital registration of Kenyans despite questions surrounding the project.

The Senate ICT committee quizzed the CS over implementation of the controversial National Integrated Information Management Systems (NIIMS), popularly known as Huduma Namba.

The panel chaired by Baringo Senator Gideon Moi pressed Mucheru to explain why the government was hell-bent on implementing NIIMS, despite lack of supporting laws and other controversies that have shrouded it.

“I am curious because there is a case in court seeking to stop the implementation of NIIMS, yet the piloting is going on,” vice chairperson Abshiro Halake said.

Halake said the Data Protection Bill, which should anchor the NIIMS, is still in the second reading stage in the Senate yet the programme has already been rolled out.

“Why this speed? Why didn’t the government see it fit to put the entire legislative framework in place first before rolling out the programme?” Homa Bay Senator Moses Kajwang’  asked.

Mucheru, in defence of NIIMS, evaded most questions, saying his ministry is not the implementing agency.

He said the system will create a national biometric population database.

“I may not respond to the issues because this programme is being implemented by the Ministry of Interior. We are just playing a supportive role,” he told the senators.

He said a multi-agency team comprising Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i and himself will appear before the Senate’s Committee of the Whole House to explain the programme.

Mucheru said that NIIMS will create, manage, maintain and operate a national population register as a single source of personal information of all citizens and foreign nationals resident in Kenya. 

“It will harmonise, incorporate and collate into the register, information from other databases in government agencies related to registration of persons,” he said.

The CS said NIIMS was enacted by the National Assembly through the Statute Miscellaneous (Amendment) Bill of 2018.

 But the senators challenged his line of argument, saying it did not have the input of the Senate.

“The government cannot rely on a Miscellaneous Amendment to roll out a programme that will expose Kenyans’ privacy,” Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua said.

The Senators questioned Mucheru why he came up with a ‘parallel’ Data Protection Bill, despite being aware and even contributing to the one currently before the Senate.

“The bill that was approved in the Cabinet is a hybrid of what we proposed and what the Senate proposed,” he said.

The government is currently piloting NIIMS in selected counties.

Under the programme, Kenyans are to be registered digitally and given unique identification numbers generated by NIIMS.

Two weeks ago, the Senate’s Security committee called for an immediate halt of the programme until concerns raised about it are addressed.by JULIUS OTIENO

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