Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer at the Launch of Malawi’s National Registration Information System (NRIS) on October 27, 2016

  • Your Excellency Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, President of the Republic of Malawi and Your Excellency Dr. Gertrude Mutharika, First Lady of the Republic of Malawi
  • The Right Honourable Vice President of The Republic of Malawi Dr. Salous Chilima and Mrs. Mary Chilima
  • Honorable Grace Obama Chiumia, Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security  (I love to say her name!) and other Cabinet Ministers here present
  • The Honorable  Richard Msowoya,  Speaker of the National Assembly and other Members of Parliament here present
  • Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda
  • The Chief Secretary of Government and senior government officials
  • UN ResRep Mia Seppo and representatives of other governments who have supported the National Registration and Information System
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, All Protocols Observed

On behalf of the United States Government, I am delighted to be part of this important occasion.  I think I was invited to speak because since just last year, with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every child born in Malawi is now issued a birth certificate with a unique identification number.  To complement this effort, we are also supporting the issuance of a death certificate for every Malawian citizen who passes on.

I like to think that these systems are the small mother and father of the larger, even more transformative NRIS being launched today.  And I’m proud that the United States has been able to make a contribution to the NRIS as well.

To people not involved in this project, this may seem like a minor accomplishment – but, it is in fact, a really big deal.  In fact, Mr. President, when Washington asks me what I think would have the greatest impact on Malawi’s development, I list a few things:

  • One is education, as I know you believe. As Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
  • Another is power – electricity will create incentives for manufacturing investment and commercial agriculture, make it so that women don’t have to spend half their day looking for fuel and destroying Malawi’s beautiful forest, it will let students study at night.
  • A third – and you may be surprised by this answer – is this National Registration Information System.

The NRIS is transformative because:

  • It will aid banks in providing banking and credit services, many of which have virtually unobtainable by the majority of Malawians in the absence of a well-functioning national identification system.
  • A well-functioning National ID system will help cut the time and cost required for voter registration.
  • A National ID card will facilitate access to education and health services for Malawians and make it possible to charge non-Malawians for those services.
  • In health, the National ID card can also help ensure that Malawians who need treatment for HIV or malaria are adhering to treatment and that the supplies of the medicines they need are available when and where they need them. Our support for Malawi’s national identification and civil registration systems thus helps ensure American investment in Malawi’s health sector brings long-lasting benefits to more of Malawi’s citizens.
  • And, very importantly, having a national ID card, along with the vital statistics derived from an accurate birth and death registration system, are crucial for good public health decision making and policy development. Official statistics derived from the new system can be used at the national, regional, and global levels for policy-making and planning necessary for Malawi’s continued health, development, and growth.

All of these things are key to your Public Sector Reform program, Mr. President, (which is another of the things I’d list as having the power to transform Malawi).  They will help Malawi to better identify its citizens receiving government services – that’s every Malawian citizen! – resulting in greater accountability, equity, and monitoring of the government services provided.

Considerable work from across every ministry and in every district is required to ensure that Malawi achieves the maximum benefit from the National Registration Information System.  The United States looks forward to seeing how quickly ministries can implement plans to use the NRIS to improve education and health outcomes, conduct voter registration transparently, and improve the provision of government services  – and we stand ready to assist.

With these few words, I’ll conclude by saying, the United States is proud to assist the hard-working Malawians in government and across society who are making these sorts of positive – no, transformational – change happen.

Zikomo kwambiri!