Court action possible as Opposition stands against NIDS Bill

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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THE Opposition People's National Party is calling on the Government to reconsider its stance on the National Identification and Registration Act, 2017 (NIDS Bill), which was passed on Monday night in the Upper House following contentious deliberations which saw senators hunkered down at Gordon House Friday into Saturday morning and late Monday night.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips called a press conference at the People's National Party's (PNP's) Old Hope Road headquarters yesterday to appeal to the Andrew Holness-led Administration, and to emphasise that its opposition to the Bill was not politically motivated but was in the best interest of all Jamaicans.

He also indicated that a legal challenge is not out of the question.

“We are hoping still that the Government will reconsider its position, and we reserve our right to do everything necessary, in whatever forum, including the courts, to ensure that the Jamaican people are not trampled upon,” Dr Phillips, who was flanked by senators, told journalists.

He stressed, however, that it is not too late for proper consultations, and that the Government should reconsider in particular the two clauses which the Opposition objected to from the start.

“We think that, despite the Government using its majority in the Senate to pass the Bill over the objection of the senators from the People's National Party, they need to reconsider their position, and it is not too late to do so,” Dr Phillips urged.

“The importance of the process is not to be seen as political. We argued and secured many changes in the course of consideration of the Bill in the Lower House, but the way in which the Bill was approached shows that careful enough preparation was not done,” he stated, pointing to the 100 amendments made in the House of Representatives and the 168 additional changes made in the Senate.

“It obviously would have benefited from more careful consideration in a select committee and a comprehensively redrafted Bill presented, which could have been considered,” Dr Phillips said.

The Opposition leader argued that there had been plenty opportunities to send the Bill to a joint select committee as the Opposition suggested in June when it was first tabled.

“That is why the standing orders of Parliament have provisions for select committees — to allow for complex bits of legislation to be discussed in an effectively non-partisan manner, where all the elements can be amplified, and where the procedures allow for interested stakeholders, in the general public, to come and present their position to the Parliament,” he asserted. “The Government refused, at every point, our suggestion, our request, for a joint select committee to be empanelled.”

He further pointed out that Opposition senators had voted against the Bill, not because there was any departure from the opinions of their colleague Members of Parliament in the House of Representatives, but because the Bill that came before the Senate was substantially different from the one which went before the House of Representatives.

He highlighted objection to the provision which made it mandatory for citizens to register and provided for a massive fine for those who do not, and Clause 41, which could see citizens denied access to necessary public service.

“This latter clause, in particular, was removed in the version of the Bill that came to the House [of Representatives] but yet was put back in the amendments that were brought by the Government to the Bill in the Senate. We found it objectionable in the Lower House, and we find it objectionable in the Upper House… You can't agree to take something out and then reintroduce it without discussions,” he insisted.

The provisions also state that private sector companies could ask individuals for their national identification number for transactions.

Dr Phillips said the senators acted well within their rights to point out any concerns which could affect the rights of citizens.

The Bill is to go back to the House of Representatives next week.

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