x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Deadline for ID cards brings frustration

Emiratis faced a chaotic day of long queues as thousands tried to register for a government identity card.

A fingerprint taken for an ID card is shown up on a computer screen at the Emirates Identity Authority in Abu Dhabi.
A fingerprint taken for an ID card is shown up on a computer screen at the Emirates Identity Authority in Abu Dhabi.

DUBAI // Emiratis faced a chaotic and frustrating day of long queues yesterday as thousands tried to register for a government identity card before the deadline ran out. Staff were left trying to process a last-minute flood of applications spurred on by warnings that any citizen who was still not registered from today onwards could be fined Dh1,000 (US$272).

"I came here at 8am and took a ticket; I came back at 11am and there are still 170 people ahead of me and just two people to type all the applications," said Mohammed al Amri, one of the hundreds who took the day off work to queue at the Al Barsha registration centre. Thamer al Qasemi, planning director for the Emirates Identity Authority (Eida), said that although today's deadline still stood, the legal mechanism by which people could be fined was not yet in place, and that until it was, no fines would be imposed.

"We need to have the legal authority to refer people to court or the police, and until that is in place we will continue to register people even after the deadline without imposing a fine," he said. "We are still going back and forth with other authorities to decide what we can do. There is no news yet on how long this might take." At the Al Barsha centre yesterday morning, many of those waiting said they had got their cards more than a year ago, but had not realised they also needed to register their children.

Others said they were unhappy at having to go through the process at all, and complained that the biometric card could still not be used for most day-to-day transactions. "Tomorrow is April 1, so I hope this is not an April Fool joke," said Ali al Jehazi, who said he had been living out of the country until a week ago and had not been able to register before. "A lot of Emiratis have a big family, so a Dh1,000 fine is a lot. Everyone here has had to take the day off work."

One parent worried at the threat of a fine was Ghanim al Bolushi, who was taking a cigarette break while his family queued inside. "I have had my card a long time but I was told I didn't need to get one for my children; then I heard on the radio that I do. I have 10 children, so I could be fined Dh10,000, but all the time I have had it I haven't found anywhere I could use my card," he said. "The fine is too high; it's a big problem."

Khalid Karam, who said he had used his card once in the year since he had registered himself and his wife, had also taken the day off work to register his children. "We thought it was not needed for children under 15, then my friend told me it was. They should have made the information more clear. The rules kept changing, the deadline kept changing. It's crazy." Mr al Qasemi said the information given by Eida had been clear. "People below the age of 15 do not have to have an ID card, but they do need to register on the population database; this has been the policy since the start of the project," he said. "We have had pictures of children in all our advertisements, we have said it over and over again to the media. I don't think people really have any excuse at this stage. There has been a big rush in the last two weeks. Why have people left it so late?"

Despite complaints that banks and many other institutions do not yet accept the ID card, there are some signs that is starting to change. In March, the Abu Dhabi pension fund announced that the card could be used to claim pensions and other state benefits, and yesterday the Dubai Courts Department said Emiratis would no longer be able to access the legal system properly without one. "If they wish to file a case or ask for a replacement marriage certificate, for example, they will have to present their ID cards, otherwise their applications will not be processed," said Rabea al Zarooni, head of public relations at the courts.

She said criminal cases would not be affected, and that Emirati witnesses could still produce other forms of ID before giving evidence. gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae