Eight-hour waits wading through the bureaucracy, massive queues at government offices and repeatedly shifting goal posts - the stories about the early teething problems of the Emirates ID card application process has discouraged more than a few. As The National reports today, nine out of 10 expatriates still have not filed for ID cards. Extending the deadline beyond December 31 makes sense in terms of problems in implementation. What seems clear is that a slow and steady enrolment process is preferable to a mad rush. But equally, the fact that only 10 per cent of expatriates have enlisted in the programme is a number that has to change.
There are sound reasons behind the ID card scheme. In May, the Emirates ID Authority initiated a programme to integrate data from labour cards, visas and the IDs into one platform. In part, that combination will help streamline the bureaucratic process, but it also signifies the broad legal and national security issues that the ID cards entail. The first step in the solution is to acknowledge the problems in the system. "It doesn't seem possible, based on the latest population statistics, to enrol everyone this year," said Ali al Khouri, a senior official at the ID Authority. "So much money was spent on a campaign asking people to enrol when capacity was limited."
The process by which residents obtain cards is not as cumbersome as it once was. By the end of this year, registration for ID cards should be offered at medical centres during visa applications. That should ease the way, as will increased capacity at registration centres from the current level of 7,000 to an eventual 20,000 people a day. The ID card process has been ponderous at times, and residents have fallen through the cracks. In part, this has been a learning opportunity about how to implement nationwide programmes and the challenges involved.
At some point, however, blaming the system is no longer an option. The Emirates ID Authority has consistently addressed shortfalls in the system - relaxing the December 31 deadline is only one example. The ID card will become a basic requirement of residency. Nationals and expatriates both have a responsibility to meet that requirement.