Picture of a woman driving a car
#Identity Technology

Driving Uganda: enriching citizens’ license experience

5 Mins.

When it comes to obtaining official documents, people often dread the hassles, the waiting times, and the admin. But it does not have to be that way – as the citizens of Uganda have discovered with the country’s new computerized system for issuing driving licenses.

Dembe wakes up early in the Kampala home she shares with her extended family, excited that today she is about to receive her first full driving license.

After a simple breakfast of tea and posho porridge with bananas, she gathers together all the relevant documents she will need to obtain her license and catches a neighborhood minibus from her home in Ntinda, in the northeast of the Ugandan capital. Her destination: the colonial-era Kampala Railway Station, next to which the Uganda Security Printing Company has established the office for the new Uganda Driver Licensing System (UDLS).

Citizen-centric hub

UDLS was set up in 2021 as a one-stop shop for the issuance of the country’s new computerized driver’s licenses, a center where citizens obtain, renew, or extend the classes of their license in an easy, quick, and secure way.

When the Uganda Security Printing Company (a joint venture between G+D’s Veridos and the state-owned Uganda Printing and Publishing Corporation, or UPPC) set out to modernize the country’s driver’s license card and the processes involved in its issuance, the citizen’s experience was high on its list of priorities.

The speed and convenience for citizens come from the digital orchestration of the process: all identity checking, payment, biometrics capture, and issuance are now handled digitally. And because the systems interface with other government systems (particularly the National Identification & Registration Authority) it means citizens don’t have to engage directly with any other government department in order to apply, prove their eligibility, pay, and receive their valid license – as long they have all the correct documentation prepared in advance.

A streamlined process

Driver’s license of Republic of Uganda

As Dembe waits her turn in the short line, armed with a book in anticipation of a long wait, she checks through her plastic folder of documents – ID card, learner’s license, driving school completion certificate, and authorized acknowledgement of her driving competency. A few days earlier she had also signed into the Uganda Revenue Authority’s portal to pay online for the new license, choosing a five-year license (rather than the three- or one-year option), and obtained the required proof of payment of the fee of 330,000 Ugandan shillings, about $87.

After a short time at the UDLS, Dembe presents the documentation to the official for checking. Next, her biometric data – photo, signature, and fingerprints – are captured using state-of-the-art Veridos equipment. She then takes a seat while, behind the scenes, her data is stored and engraved on a new Ugandan driver’s license card. The card is checked for quality and then issued to its new owner, a mere 15 minutes later.

“The reality for most citizens is that the whole document-checking, ID-capture, and new-license-issuance process has been reduced to around 30 minutes.“
Dr. Aweke Lemma
Managing Director Veridos Uganda

Meeting KPIs – and citizens’ expectations

The end-to-end issuance process can be completed in less than an hour, a KPI set by the Ugandan government’s team. Since the system went live in March 2021, that has been consistently met, says Dr. Aweke Lemma, Managing Director Veridos Uganda. “But the reality for most citizens is that the whole document-checking, ID-capture, and new-license-issuance process has been reduced to around 30 minutes,” he says.

For Dembe’s cousin, who also recently passed her driving test but who lives in a village far from Kampala, there is also a new streamlined process for obtaining a full license. She can visit her nearest regional office of the UDLS (one of seven), where the turnaround from enrollment is also fast. Her data is collected locally, communicated for processing to the centralized system, and her card sent out ready for collection within two days (the target is 36 hours).

For people living in more remote areas, there are also plans for a mobile service – minivans equipped with all the data capture and communications equipment that will offer citizens a rapid enrollment and issuance service.

Of course, at all the centers, the performance of the system that makes the citizen’s experience so smooth is dependent on the availability of and access to integrated services such as the National Identification & Registration Authority (NIRA) or the Uganda Revenue Authority payment system.

There are more benefits to the citizen than just convenience. The state-of-the-art security system uses a centralized database and so eliminates any uncertainties about the document being original and valid, and whether the driver has any endorsements or outstanding fines. This is essential in reducing the number of unqualified drivers on the roads who put people’s lives at risk.

Transforming the experience

Dembe’s experience with her new driving license contrasts sharply with that of her parents, who used the previous system.

The process for them was more laborious and time-consuming, and open to potential fraud. With the old license card, renewal slips were glued inside a logbook. This made it possible for drivers with the same names to swap slips. Furthermore, the cards weren’t fully aligned to ISO standards.

With her new ISO-compliant license, Dembe has the right to drive in any other country in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and East Africa.

Infographic about drivers' licence issuance

Robust production

Behind that whole process are well-proven Veridos systems – from creating the card itself and the peripherals for capturing biometric data to the laser-engraving of the citizen’s individual data on the card.

The long-lasting polycarbonate card design (replacing the PVC used in the previous license) is currently manufactured in Greece by Veridos. But a longer-term goal of the joint venture is to establish a local production capability for all security documents. Under a 15-year agreement reached in 2018, Veridos and the UPPC are establishing a 41 billion shilling ($10.9 million) facility for the creation of biometric ID documents – including ePassports, national identity cards, and driver’s licenses – in Entebbe, some 40 kilometers south of Kampala.

The new driver’s license card boasts a comprehensive set of security features. Although it doesn’t include a microchip (a choice to keep license costs reasonable), the underlying PKI crypto technology in the 2-D machine-readable barcode means it can be trusted to be unaltered and rightfully issued. That means authorities such as traffic police can validate a license from the barcode using robust handheld devices and keep the roads safer.

And that is reassuring for citizens like Dembe, as she returns home ready to pick up the family car and venture out for the first time alone into the busy traffic of Kampala.

Published: 21/12/2022

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