An open letter to Chairman FBR
July 29, 2021
Recognising Life Events
August 15, 2021

Proof of Aliveness

 Down a  long and narrow winding street, fifteen minutes from the main National Highway in Deh Landhi, is a 200 bed health-care centre called the Koohi Goth Hospital.  A unique place where healing, compassion, humanity and learning come together in abundance to create a health-care model that is worth emulating. It is refreshing to see how  Koohi Goth has adopted numerous simple yet  stunning processes on a self-help basis, in its day-to-day activities.   One such process is a modern facial recognition system for the meal management of its staff and trainee nurses that not just  recognizes each individual but is also integrated with allocated time blocks, meal slips and payments.

Of the many concepts Pakistan could learn from Koohi Goth is how to determine if  the dead have indeed died and  the  living are indeed alive. Today,  an individual who dies in Pakistan will continue to have his SIM active, CNIC card  valid and his pension arriving till (if at all), the family obtains a  NADRA issued  ‘Death Certificate’.  Pakistan could easily use digital technology to link NADRA with every hospital and graveyard across the country to enable NADRA to receive first-hand information on  deaths and initiate downstream actions such as blocking pensions, SIMs, CNIC cards etc.

In 2015, the National Bank of Pakistan revealed that a shocking number of  600,000 ghost pensioners were receiving pensions, even when the original recipients had long expired.  A similar report in 2020 by Pakistan Postal Department revealed that as many as 400,000 pensioners were no longer traceable. To curb the ‘ghosts’ from receiving the pension of the expired, additional  layers of hurdles are routinely added  to ensure that the genuine recipients are indeed still ‘alive’.   Finger print validation, affidavits, indemnity bonds drawn on stamp papers and forms signed and stamped by a serving grade 17 or above officer are some of  the typical ‘proof of aliveness’ requirements.   Sadly these barriers only add to the misery and runarounds of the “alive”, while the “ghosts” continue to have a field day.

Pakistan could save Rs. 15 to 20  billion of  ‘ghost’ pensions every six months by simply adopting the widely available face recognition technology to verify if a pensioner is alive or not.  The algorithm used in many of these systems could provide a high accuracy of less than 1 in 30 million chance for a mismatch.

The facial recognition systems are hugely more reliable than the finger biometrics. They have no issues of faded finger prints or of dysfunctional biometric machines.  Most of all, facial validation does not require visiting any bank or an ATM machine – a great convenience for seniors who may have various health issues that restrict their movements.

The “Proof of Aliveness” process using facial recognition  begins by a one-time registration of each pensioner. This requires downloading a dedicated “Aliveness confirmation App”.  On opening the app, the individual is asked to register his name, CNIC,  the organization served, employee number, cell number and the date of birth.   The individual is then asked to adjust his face within the frame on the screen, look at it for 5 seconds and then repeat the process to scan both sides of his / her CNIC.   The data is simultaneously transferred, logged and recorded on a server.

The on-going three monthly  confirmation of ‘aliveness’ is performed by a pensioner opening the  ‘Aliveness Confirmation App’  on his registered cell phone, adjusting his face within the frame on the screen for 5 seconds and reading out a 3 digit number (a one time code generated afresh each time) that appears on the screen.  The server at the other end matches the facial features and confirms (or denies) that the 3 digit code has been read correctly and in real time. If the Koohi Goth Hospital can do it, then certainly Pakistan too could  adopt this facial recognition technology to save billions of Rupees every year and provide a foolproof and hassle-free process to its 3 million pensioners.

Naeem Sadiq

Express Tribune,  1st August 2021