Researchers bat for NIDS

Researchers bat for NIDS

Senior staff reporter

Friday, October 16, 2020

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FOLLOWING a 2019 study exploring the implications of a National Identification System (NIDS) for Jamaica, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI) says one of the ills its introduction would rid the country of is the looting of benefits intended for the poorest in society.

“The databases within the social programmes, they do not communicate with each other. So you will find that one person is receiving benefit from different programmes and there is a policy within the Ministry of Labour and Social Security that states that no individual should be receiving a benefit under more than two social programmes — but you have persons that are receiving from more than two,” Monique Graham, a researcher with the think tank, told the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview.

According to CAPRI, the lack of a single, trusted identification system in Jamaica — which serves as a general purpose identification that is usable across all activities — has left the door wide open for a number of irregularities.

“Also, the system has duplicates, there are ghost beneficiaries. So these persons don't exist, but money is being sent out. So we need to make sure that the neediest of persons are being served and they are being served efficiently, and leveraging this NIDS enables that,” Graham argued.

Additionally, a single identification system would also reduce the possibility for fraud that is evidenced in several of the main forms of identification now used by Jamaicans, the research institute is maintaining.

According to data from the Office of the Prime Minister, between 2009 and 2019, there were a total 2,499 offences related to passport forgeries.

Between 2014 and 2019, there were 153 reports of fraudulent taxpayer registration numbers (TRNs), while between 2010 and 2018, the number of fraudulent certificates confiscated from customers of the Registrar General's Department stood at 1,072.

Graham said CAPRI, in a 2019 national survey to identify the benefits of a national system, examined the current identification systems and found serious limitations in all, bolstered by the fact that they were also not interconnected.

“For example, we looked at the coverage that we have, 25 per cent of the adult population has a driver's licence, 43 per cent have a valid electoral identification card, and 56 per cent have a valid passport. We did examine, to an extent, the birth certificate and the taxpayer registration number, because those are documents used to produce the actual identifications. The coverage for those IDs are pretty low,” she said.

“We identified some reasons. The first thing is the specificity of the ID, they have an intended purpose. The passport is for travel, so if you are not travelling it is not necessary for you to get that. The electoral ID, if you don't want to be enumerated or you don't want to vote, you don't need to get it, and the same for the driver's licence — if you are not interested in driving you don't need to get that. So, literally, persons who do not want any of those services don't have an alternative, and that is one of the reasons we say there needs to be a [universal] identification system in Jamaica,” the researcher stated.

According to the think tank, logistic and bureaucratic barriers to accessing the present forms of identification were another deficiency.

“For the electoral ID, you have to have an address, this is mandated by law. If you are mentally incapacitated you cannot get one, and this is the ID that is the de facto national ID, so it already excludes homeless persons and persons who are mentally ill. Another thing is it can take up to six months to be issued... so, in-between that time, a lot of things can happen,” Graham pointed out.

“We also examined the passport; a person spends more money and waits a longer period if that passport application is not done at the Kingston office; any other parish, the wait is longer.

“The driver's licence, you need a provisional licence. You also need to do the test and then you have to pay for the actual identification. So these are some of the things persons have to go through. For some of us it may not be anything, but for the poorest and neediest, it is a big deal for them and they have to go through a lot just to access these identifications,” she said.

Individuals in rural areas, as well as the youth, are “disproportionately affected”, according to the CAPRI researcher.

“There is no ID that youth below 17 years old [can access on their own]. The passport is the only identification that somebody at that age can obtain, and that has a cost to it. Let us say there are young persons who want to be trained or become involved in youth intervention programmes, they need a TRN. The parents have to apply on their behalf, because they are minors.

“Now, if we look at the profile of the youth who are at risk of becoming unattached, what is the likelihood of their parents going in to apply on their behalf? So these are the things we looked at,” Graham stated.

In the meantime, researchers found that other indirect costs, in terms of time and transportation, were further impediments.

“We found that persons lose $1,850 in potential productivity to access a justice of the peace [to verify documents needed to complete the application]... We found that it takes Jamaicans 4.1 hours to conduct a single transaction, and 45 per cent of those transactions require at least three visits to a government entity to be completed, and this is the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean — we are way behind. We do have a negative perception of NIDS, but I think with public awareness it will help reduce the negative impression,” Graham told the Observer.

“The system we are proposing does not require the extensive biometric data that persons are opposed to. What we are proposing is literally 10 fingerprints and a facial image. This is what is used to get the electoral ID, and you may ask why not leverage the National ID? By law, the fingerprints collected can only be used for electoral purposes,” she pointed out.

She said CAPRI's examination of how the lack of identification impacted, for example, individuals getting remittances, showed that they “lose out on US$206 per transaction, meaning it is because they do not have identification why they do not get remittances, not because they do not have someone abroad”.

The researcher said having the money sent to these individuals through a third party, who collects it on their behalf, leaves “them vulnerable to dishonesty because, in cases, persons charge them to collect the money”.

“This is foregone income which affects the household, because studies show that 55 per cent of remittances is used to support the household. Yes, we do need NIDS, and this is not ignoring the safeguard that needs to be in place,” she said.

CAPRI will next Tuesday launch the report of its findings.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness last month said his Administration anticipates that the NIDS will become law by December.

The prime minister noted that in April this year, a significant landmark was achieved when Cabinet approved the new voluntary National Identification and Registration Policy. He noted substantial changes in the new policy, including voluntary enrolment under NIDS and the use of minimum biometrics, which are fingerprints, a facial image and manual signature only.

Jamaica's Supreme Court ruled in April 2019 that aspects of the controversial Bill, National Identification and Registration Act, violated the constitution, and declared the entire law null and void. This followed a walkout of the House of Representatives by Opposition Members of Parliament in 2017, after which the Government went ahead and passed the Bill.

In delivering the judgement, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes said it was the unanimous decision of the court that the mandatory requirement of NIDS for individuals to submit biometric information was a violation of the right to privacy, which is stipulated in the constitution.

The court decided to strike it down in its entirety, because the aspects which did not infringe on the constitutional rights of citizens were not enough to stand alone.

The court action was brought by People's National Party (PNP) General Secretary Julian Robinson. However, more recently, Robinson has suggested that the Government go ahead with the revised Bill, and have it reviewed by a joint select committee of Parliament.

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