In a conference call initiated by The Guardian’s MARCEL MBAMALU and the Africa Press Organisation (APO), at the weekend, the Division President, Sub Saharan Africa, Mastercard, Mr. Daniel Monehin, shed more light on the proposed Mastercard-branded National Identity smart cards with electronic payment capability announced at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town, South Africa. Excerpts:
Could you shed more light on how the project keys into the Central Bank of Nigeria’s “cashless Nigeria” scheme?
It really keys into the process of financial inclusion and banking the unbanked, and giving access to formal financial services in the country. That’s the original goal, which Nigeria has set to be achieved. I think, the next checkpoint is in the next seven years — that is, the year 2020 — to reduce the number of unbanked by certain percentage.
So what this does is it effectively give access to formal financial system to every Nigerian, aged 16 and above, so that, in one fell swoop, the country achieves unique identification, which on its own is a stimulant to the economy and at the same time achieving reduction and annihilation of the unbanked and opening up access to everyone.
So when we talk about financial inclusion, there are three categories: there is the access, the usage and the quality of financial services.
What this has done is that it has opened the floodgate to the access of financial services. So, it is now left for us, the participants, the cardholders, and the government, to stimulate the usage and begin to drive the quality.
But what we did not have before was access, over 70 percent of Nigerians did not have access to financial services but when these cards are issued that means seven out of every 10 Nigerians would be getting access for the very first time; that is massive to any economy and really there’s no country in Africa where this has happened.
Globally, there is no country that has achieved this massive scale, in terms of percentage and coverage of its population. So this is an excellent initiative and we are excited to be a part of it.
You talk of something close to general application of the card; yet, the finance Minister was quoted as saying that it will begin with government pensions before…
That was in response to the question that was asked the honorable Minister as to what would be the criteria for selecting the pilot citizens. She responded that she’s really excited at the auspicious time that this is going on because there’s a lot of work that is being done centrally for central treasury and for payment within the federal government, and she would like to see pensioners being part of this first group of the pilot, so that the federal government can begin to load their payment automatically, take out the physical nature of it so that the old tale of people dying on the line while trying to wait on the line to collect their pension would be a thing of the past.
The whole thing that is happening is that this is a platform not just for receiving government tension but for receiving government pensions, benefits, bursary payments, NGO’s that are funding private segments of the society can be funded directly; salaries can be paid directly. Anybody with that card has a whole new world opened to him or her. So, from government-to-people payments, from people-to-people payments, ATM all of those platforms or avenues are open. This is not a card that is restricted, its not even restricted to Nigeria; it is loaded.
You can go out of Nigeria to Ghana, Gambia, USA, China and use it. It is accepted in 210 countries and territories, and over 13 million acceptance locations around the world.
So, in terms of potential, this is a massive platform and what the minister just alluded to is just one segment of its use, not all.
The issuance is starting within the next three months. The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is going to do an event locally to flag it off.
The need to streamline identity management projects in the country has been debated in several quarters. Is the government getting close to doing that?
I’m sure the policy makers would be able to make decisions around streamlining; but I also know that it is not uncommon to have various data bases in one economy with a central one that links up with other data bases.
The central one is the one we are talking about now; that is, the one that is supported by an Act of the Legislature, the 2007 Act establishing NIMC. Therefore, every other one can shake hands with it, can connect with it, can co-exist with it but the central one becomes the main one and that’s the one we are talking about here.
But you do make a good point about streamlining. Once this takes off, I’m sure anyone that needs to be streamlined, the policy makers would probably make that happen.
Since this scheme, according to you, takes off in three months’ time; why then do you consider it important to announce it in far-away Cape Town a few days ago?
It was an auspicious moment, one that doesn’t come around until the next 12 months, to have the global attention in one spot on the world economic forum on a platform that has integrity. Even though it is directly impacting Nigerians, it is actually a global standard. I’ve been receiving calls from several countries now saying, ‘can we learn more about this, can we look at doing this in our country?’ So, even though it is starting in Nigeria, it has a global perspective and that’s why we are happy to talk about it here. So the world economic forum would be coming to Nigeria in 12months. So, if this were a Nigerian location, we would have announced it. Regardless of the location, it was really about the attention and the platform, which the event offered.
People express the concern that the federal government could be handing over personal data of Nigerians to a foreign company, Mastercard…
Just to clarify, the personal data, the biometric and all of that, belonging to Nigerians, remain with the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the Nigerian Government and its agency, the NIMC.
MasterCard does not touch it, it does not handle it, it does not transfer it; we don’t do anything with your personal data.
It’s just that we are using the same card for efficiency to coexist the identity and payment functionality on the same highly secured chip and pin card. But Mastercard does not touch the biometric part at all; it is sealed and completely out of MasterCard’s purview.
Source: The Guardian