Political opportunism and the NIDS

Friday, November 17, 2017

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There has been a lot of hand-wringing and statements of dismay over the Government's attempt to introduce a national identification system (NIDS). In fact, some people — who really should know better — have resorted to scaremongering in an attempt, it seems, to derail the process and win support from Jamaicans who have limited knowledge of the proposed measure.

We have even heard one Opposition senator asking why the NIDS Bill is being rushed through the Parliament, even after the Opposition played a commendable role in getting significant amendments made to the Bill during two marathon sessions in the Upper House.

As we argued in this space earlier this week, the entire country should be seized with clause 41 of the proposed legislation which states that Jamaicans without national identification will not be able to access public services, including essentials like health, water, fire services, police services, etc.

The Government has said that the clause 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. However, we reiterate that it will be critical to determine what “over a number of years” means in actual time, even as we cannot sanction people being denied access to essential services.

Amidst all that, though, we can't help but notice that there is some amount of political opportunism being employed in this matter, as some of those now complaining about the Bill were silent when former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was pushing for the NIDS to become a reality in 2012 — the year when Jamaica celebrated its 50th anniversary of Independence.

Mrs Simpson Miller, in an address delivered on her behalf by her then information minister to the opening ceremony of a three-day NIDS seminar in Kingston, welcomed the seminar as a step in efforts to “fast-track the implementation of the NIDS”.

She also noted that since the formal launch of the initiative, in 2011, much important work had taken place.

“The absence of a central identification system, and not having the right piece of identification, often leads to all kinds of frustrating experiences for our citizens, especially for the poor. Whether it is in applying for a job, opening a bank account, accessing services, including the services of Government, or even registering for an educational opportunity,” Mrs Simpson Miller was quoted in a Jamaica Information Service (JIS) news release.

The JIS also reported the then prime minister as lamenting the fact that, despite the country being able to produce documents that have a high degree of security and integrity and are acceptable the world over and by the international partners, “Jamaica does not have a central national database with the accompanying systems for verification and authentication.”

Therein lies the rub, because all the State agencies with data on Jamaicans have no system of “speaking to each other”, as it is termed in high technology jargon.

While we must ensure that this Bill meets all the criteria for good legislation, we must be careful not to talk it to death, as is the wont of some people who seem to believe that chatter is more substantial than actual work.




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