Posted on 17.10.2012 in Featured, News, Ukraine

Rada adopts law on biometric passports

Starting next year, Ukrainians can get rid of their old Soviet-style passports and have them replaced with new plastic ID cards that make processing personal information easier and forgery of documents harder. 

Documents for traveling abroad will also be upgraded to fit requirements of the European Union. A new law on a unified state demographic register passed by parliament on Oct.2 is set to bring Ukraine closer to a visa-free regime with the European Union. However, the EU has not commented on the law yet.

“No comments can be made at this stage on the substance of the laws, as we haven’t received them. Ukrainian authorities did not transmit us the biometrics law,” the EU delegation to Ukraine said in a written response to Kyiv Post inquiries. While the EU keeps silent, Ukrainian officials claim it is a good law.

“I welcome this decision. We finally did it, and I think it should have been done much earlier, because it is the core of an action plan on visa liberalization that we are currently implementing,” Ukraine’s representative to the EU, Kostyantyn Yeliseyev, said on Oct.3.

Invented in the U.S. after the terrorist attacks in September 2001, biometric identification systems have been successfully launched throughout the world, including Europe and most former Soviet states since 2006. The new biometric passports will contain electronic chips with personal information including name, signature, photograph and a person’s fingerprints. National ID cards will be valid for 10 years and given to everybody at birth, rather than at age 16, as it is now. A unified state demographic register will be set up to store each citizen’s basic personal information, according to the law.

Vasyl Hrytsak, Party of Regions

“Ukraine is fulfilling its European commitments with this law. It’s finally becoming a civilized nation on the European and international stage,” says Vasyl Hrytsak, Party of Regions member and author of the law.

But while fulfilling the final requirement to start visa regime liberalization, the law could also end up costing the country millions of dollars for unnecessary plastic cards. According to Hrytsak, internal biometric ID card, which the law actually refers to as “passport,” will cost Hr 65 ($8) to produce which means the state will have to spend about $320 million to provide all citizens with new ID cards. The old ones Ukrainians are using now will be still valid, until the expiration date. The passport for traveling abroad will cost about Hr 350-450 ($44-$55) to produce. However, to get one, Ukrainians will have to pay from own pockets.

“A foreign passport is the object of luxury for Ukrainians. About 70 percent of citizens would not like to have it and actually do not need it. Others will pay any price,” Hrytsak says.

Moreover, the law foresees that similar chip-based cards will also replace social identity cards, migrant cards, sailor identity cards, drivers’ licenses and dozens of other identity documents.

“It’s absolutely clear that there is no need to produce dozens of IDs as all information can be stored on one chip and issuing one or two is enough,” says Ivan Presniakov, analyst at the International Centre for Policy Studies. “And these attempts to strip [huge amounts] from the state budget causes disapproval.”

Experts say the law is likely to lobby the interest of consortium EDAPS, a privately owned monopoly in the protected printing industry, frequently described as the one taking part in non-transparent deals and winning state contracts on non-competitive basis.

“One and the same company [EDAPS] will be doing it again without any competition,” says Viktor Chumak, department director of International Centre of  Policy Studies.

The EDAPS press service refused to comment on the law and its possible right to issue the passports if the law is signed. “We are not giving any official comments,” said Oleg Rudenko, deputy head of the press service. They also refused to comment on the ownership of the company, which is allegedly based abroad.

“The consortium is owned by people who no longer live in Ukraine,” Chumak says. “We even don’t know who is the final beneficiary of its corporate rights.”

While little is known about the ownership of the company its “permanent representative in parliament” is Hrytsak, according to Kyrylo Kulykov, a member of the opposition UDAR party and former head of Ukrainian bureau of Interpol.    The original law proposing to introduce plastic identity cards passed by parliament in October last year was vetoed by President Viktor Yanukovych. The law was criticized by a number of international organizations operating in Ukraine.

The regional representation in Kyiv of the United Nations Hight Commission on Refugees then said that the version of the law “introduces discriminatory provisions that will disadvantage and marginalize refugees in Ukraine.”

The new law is likely to be signed by the president after it gets approval of the analytical department of his administration, President Viktor Yanukovych said on Oct. 10.

“This law will be signed,” says Hrytsak. “And we have already told Europe that we will be ready to start issuing biometric passports on Jan. 1, 2013.”

 Chumak says this law is a good example of the one spurred on by powerful lobbies which are going to benefit from it.

“The major interest [of Hrytsak] in this case is the money,” Chumak says.

Source: KyivPost