ISLAMABAD: Citing sensitive security concerns, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Thursday ordered the immediate cancellation of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and Mastercard which would have allowed citizens to receive foreign remittances through the 12-digit identification number on CNICs.

“The agreement has been signed in the absence of a written permission from the government, neither were the stakeholders consulted nor sensitive security matters kept in view,” the minister observed, according to a statement released by the interior ministry.

Chaudhry Nisar has asked Nadra to explain the extent of access the foreign company would have to Nadra’s database and the law this came under.

While the use of technology for financial transactions was a welcome sign, he said, it should be clear that there could be no compromise on the national database’s security, nor could a department be allowed to transgress its mandate.

The MoU was signed without obtaining permission from the government

Nadra and Mastercard had recently signed an MoU at Davos under which all Mastercard holders abroad could send remittances to Pakistan.

A senior Nadra official, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that the end-to-end solution would be handled by Nadra and that Mastercard would not have access to the national database under the proposed project.

He said that under the proposed scheme, an icon would appear on Nadra’s database for e-payments. A Mastercard holder abroad would enter their card number, the amount to be sent and the CNIC number of the recipient. He said the recipient could collect the amount from any of Nadra’s 9,000 e-sahulat centres across the country after showing their CNIC, followed by biometric verification.

He said mere disclosure of an individual’s CNIC number did not amount to compromising the security of the database. “Whenever you visit the Prime Minister’s House or an important office or building, you are required to produce your CNIC. Does this amount to compromising the national database’s security too?” he questioned.

There were vested interests bent on sabotaging the project, the official said. “We hope our explanation will convince the interior minister, who is a man of integrity and an ardent supporter of innovative ideas to facilitate people.”

If Nadra manages to put the minister’s concerns to rest, the service could be formally launched over the next six months.

The official said that under the plan, citizens will be able to use their CNIC to send and receive domestic and international remittances, eliminating the need to visit a bank branch or exchange currency to transfer money.

Under the terms of the MoU, Mastercard was supposed to use its next generation payment processing technologies to process all online payments made by Pakistani citizens for the issuance of CNICs, passports or any other document provisioned by Nadra technologies. He insisted that if the plan was implemented, the new service would make sending and receiving international remittances convenient.

“This is significant because Pakistan is one of the top receivers of foreign remittances from abroad,” he said, pointing out that overseas Pakistanis had sent over $11 billion in remittances in 2016. He said the service would subsequently be available at Faysal Bank’s ATM network.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2017