NIDS side talk: Much ado about nothing

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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The seemingly contrived controversy over the National Identification System (NIDS) Bill is really much ado about nothing. If anything, the noise could divert attention away from the real issue that is seriously impatient of debate.

We think that Foreign Minister Kamina Johnson Smith's reference to Dr Floyd Morris's possession of a PhD was unnecessary and risked misinterpretation, especially in our tribalised political environment. This is where she went off the rails.

It is unfortunate that her first public reference to Dr Morris's hard-earned doctoral degree — itself an authentic and inspiring Jamaican success story — should be framed in such an uncertain manner that it touched a raw nerve and gave rise to an interpretation which we don't believe was meant.

Mrs Johnson Smith has proven to be a classy, educated lady who has been nothing but decent. Without it being demanded, she quickly realised her faux pas, apologised, and promptly withdrew the remark. The matter of the PhD should have been left right there.

The Government was probably too hard and fast about giving the blind Dr Morris a bit more time to get his reading devices in order to go through the new documents. No harm would have been done and it would have prevented all this time-wasting.

Naturally, the crosstalk stole valuable time that should be used to deepen the debate on the proposed NIDS, which is going to affect every Jamaican, sooner or later, in one way or another.

In particular, the entire country should be seized with clause 41 of the proposed legislation which provides that Jamaicans without a national identification, will not be able to access public services, which would include essentials like health, water, fire services, police services, and the like. At least, so the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) argues.

Senator Johnson Smith counters that clause 41 (regarding essential services) will not come into effect until a majority of Jamaicans have been enrolled in the system, and that this will be phased in over a number of years.

We think that it will be critical to determine what “over a number of years” means in actual time. Some Jamaicans are extremely slow at adapting to changing conditions in the country. There are still Jamaicans who speak in terms of pound, shilling and pence 48 years after we converted to dollars and cents! Some will never convert to metric.

Obviously, people cannot be denied access to the essentials of life, but logic suggests that there has to be a deadline for any system to work effectively. So the answer must be that we educate, educate and educate. It should not be too difficult for both Government and Opposition to join forces on an idea that has crossed administrations. No one seems to be disagreeing on the usefulness of a national identification, especially in the monumental fight against crime and corruption.

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