Gov't to make NIDS Bill changes

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness last night assured the House of Representatives that his Government will move speedily to digitalise the society, despite the setback from the Constitutional Court's rejection of the National Identification and Registration Act, which was to allow the introduction of a National Identification System (NIDS) in Jamaica.

Holness, who was answering nine questions tabled in April by Opposition spokesman on science and technology Julian Robinson, about the spending of a US$68-million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in light of the court's decision, informed the House that only two per cent, or US$1.3 million, of the loan had been spent.

He said that the cost of the identification aspect of the project amounted to only 20 per cent of the loan, and that his Government would be using the remainder of the funds to pursue the major intent of the loan, which is to produce a system to sweep Jamaica into the digital arena.

Holness said the Government had made it clear from 2017 that the wider project was not about the unique identification of citizens, but the upgrade of the Administration's digital infrastructure in its efforts to create a digital society, and this would continue while the NIDS Bill is reviewed.

“The court's ruling is respected. It is being reviewed, but I can indicate that even without the review being complete, that it is still the intention of the Government to come back to the people of Jamaica with the appropriate legislation that meets the parameters set by the court,” the prime minister said.

“And let it be clear, the Government is not going to waste time and resources. We have arranged our business so that the project... will move with speed and alacrity to have it done,” he added.

He said that, in the meantime, the old bill, which was rejected by the Constitutional Court in April, after being reviewed will be tabled in Parliament and possibly referred to a joint select committee.

He also promised that the Data Protection Bill, which had been before a joint select committee up to last year, is also being reviewed and updated and should only take two more meetings of the joint select committee to be finalised.

Holness' responses to the questions from Robinson, who brought the case against the NIDS Bill which led to the court's rejection, led to a prolonged and heated exchange between both sides of the House.

At one point the prime minister accused the Opposition of “a certain level of hypocrisy and untruthfulness” regarding the NIDS issue.

Holness noted that while the Government had spent US$1.3 million from the IDB funds on the NIDS project, the current Opposition, during its tenure in Government between 2012 and 2016, had actually spent US$1.26 million, including US$641,000 on consultants and US$95,000 on promotional items including T-shirts and an advertising campaign to promote the project.

However, Holness insisted that he did not want the issue to become politically divisive, because it was obvious that both sides of the House had the desire to increase Jamaica's digital potential.

“I don't want the project to become a political football. If I moved fast with this project it was not arrogance; it was not trying to ram anything down anybody's throat. But, as they know, they are not opposed to the creation of a digital society, but we are lagging behind in this regard. We are now in a digital era and we have fallen behind on so many of the indices that measure us, and all I want to do is to move the country quickly along the path,” Holness stated.

“Pardon my speed, but the people of Jamaica must join the rest of the world at the cutting-edge of modernity and the digital society: We will not delay on this,” he added.


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