Walker slams NIDS critics

After decades of talk, talk, talk, system now needs to be implemented, he says

Sunday, November 19, 2017



Former Director of Elections Danville Walker has pointed to the benefits of the national identification system (NIDS), saying it was long overdue after more than two decades of talk.

“Thankfully NIDS has created some stir, and what amazes me is that some believe this is a new idea,” Walker, who is managing director of the Jamaica Observer, said in a letter to the editor.

Walker was referring to the controversy sparked by the passing of the Bill in the Senate last Monday after two contentious marathon debates.

The Opposition, which voted against the Bill, has called on the Government to reconsider its position, and said it reserved its right “to do everything necessary, in whatever forum, including the courts, to ensure that the Jamaican people are not trampled upon”.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips told journalists at a news conference last week that the Opposition could not support the provision in the proposed legislation which made it mandatory for citizens to register or be fined if they do not. The Opposition also found objectionable, Clause 41, which could see citizens denied access to necessary public service if they do not register for the ID.

“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.

But 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.

The Administration has also been accused of rushing the Bill and some commentators have given the impression that it originated with the current Administration.

However, Walker, who also served as commissioner of Customs before contesting the Manchester Central seat in the 2011 General Election on a Jamaica Labour Party ticket, said that the first meeting he attended to discuss a national identification system was during the time he served as director of elections.

“It was so long ago I can't remember the year, but I think it was before the 2002 general parliamentary elections. The National Registration Unit (NRU) was approved by Cabinet, on recommendation of the then Electoral Advisory Committee in 1990, and housed in the Ministry of Health in 1993. Yes, that's correct 1993; 24 years ago. This was the result of a discussion that began from in the 1970s,” Walker said.

“I remember the last meeting I attended at the Ministry of Health — a complete waste of time, and I vowed never to return,” Walker added. “Life is too short to waste time discussing the obvious when what is needed is decisive action. Jamaica suffers greatly from this because too many with the authority to act don't have the knowledge or experience to give them the confidence to act. So we keep talking and talking and talking, always needing to check the obvious and ask another 'what if', or add a provision for the most unlikely of circumstance.”

Arguing that having a single identification number is a “no- brainer”, Walker said: “Can you imagine a voters' list that when electors are deceased and a death certificate is issued the electoral database is automatically updated? Can you imagine the same citizen dies and the NIS (National Insurance Scheme) database is automatically updated so that payments can be made much more quickly, and if pension payments are being made they would cease? Can you imagine a voters' list that you are sure who is on the list is registered within their bona fide name?

“Can you imagine a system where you can't get a fake identity so when they deport your butt to Jamaica you can't go back under an assumed name and shame all of us and cause other jurisdictions to question the validity of our documents? Can you imagine a system with all of us paying our fair share of taxes? A system that when you walk into a bank, no matter how humble your circumstance, you can prove your identity and nobody can say we don't take that ID. You don't need to know 'somebody,' because you have a national ID card. Why shouldn't Jamaicans have this?”

He also countered critics of the system who are opposed to individuals being fingerprinted, saying that they willingly give their fingerprints when they “want a visa or a farm work ticket, but in your own country you feel offended if asked”.

Walker also charged that many of the people opposing NIDS “were part of the Cabinet that approved the establishment of the NRU”.

“Was that jobs for the boys?” he asked, adding “I know it had a head for all those years and duty concession vehicles. Time come to earn it now.”

In 2012, then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller welcomed a three-day NIDS seminar in Kingston as a step in efforts to “fast-track the implementation” of the system.

“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,” Simpson Miller said in an address to the seminar delivered on her behalf by her then information minister.

In his letter, Walker said that had it not been for the [Andrew] Holness Administration the Bill would beat the decriminalisation of ganja for want of more discussion.

“NIDS was passed because the right leadership was behind it. The idea did not begin with this Administration, but this Administration took an idea long overdue and got the legislation done. Now for the implementation,” Walker said.

The Government has said that the NIDS, which is being facilitated under the National Identification and Registration Bill, will provide a comprehensive and secure structure to enable the capture and storage of identity information for all Jamaicans.

Under the system, each citizen will be provided with a randomised nine-digit national identification number, which he will have for life.

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