'Big brother is watching you'


Thursday, November 16, 2017

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So the Senate has passed the National Identification and Registration Bill. It is now to go back to the House of Representatives.

The issue of the national identification system was in the news from last week. And the move to end corporal punishment within families seems tied up with the conditions of getting funds for the national identification Bill, if I understand Prime Minister Andrew Holness correctly.

While it is true that the matter of national identification was mooted over 40 years ago, and that there are in fact national identification cards for years, it was not mandatory. But it is disingenuous of the Government to now argue that they are not rushing the Bill because the matter was raised 40 years ago. There are provisions of this Bill that the general public knows very little about.

While I understand that the Government wants to catch the last meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank for this year to apply for the funding, I still believe that it still should wait.

I know that implementing the new system will provide jobs and that the effects of this will spill over in the communities and the political benefits to the regime. I know that this will take the pressure off the Government as many are bawling that money is scarce. At the same time, I do not think that the public should allow the Bill to go through without first looking through it thoroughly to see if rights will be trampled upon.

George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four comes to mind here, although we might be 33 years late. Will this turn out to be, “Big Brother is watching you”? Will we feel that we will lose freedom of expression and have to resort to groupthink? Why does the Government want everyone's DNA? All these questions come to mind whenever there is a rush to do things, especially by politician.

I recall that a credit union had a special meeting to change many of its rules a few years ago. The board had proposed to make the changes en bloc. But, within the many amendments, they wanted to change the rules so that anyone, member or not, could walk in to a branch of the credit union and borrow a loan of any size.

This being Jamaica, one can speculate that there were leaders in that credit union that wanted to make big loans easy for their friends to access. But some of us caught the 'rake' just in time. And the present rush to get this national identification Bill passed suggests that “suppm inna suppm”, as we say in patois.

The provisions of the Bill can very well backfire on the Government politically at election time if some of the provisions prove to be very unpopular. Indeed, Andrew Holness may find that having personal popularity is far from being enough to help him politically if this Bill is unpopular. When Sir Alexander Bustamante lost power in 1955 to the People's National Party (PNP) led by Norman Manley, Bustamante was still the most popular politician in the country. When the PNP lost to the Jamaica Labour Party led by Edward Seaga in 1980, Michael Manley was still the most popular politician in Jamaica. And when Bruce Golding led the JLP to power in 2007, Portia Simpson Miller was the most popular politician in Jamaica.

I think that Holness either understands this or has been listening to sound advice. This is why statements have been issued that the Opposition PNP is misleading the public to maintain support among the electorate. This is why there were so many amendments to the original Bill. And this is why the Senate had its sitting unusually on a Monday this week.

I have read all of the arguments for and against the use of corporal punishment both at home and at school. This has been a topic that has gone on for in excess of 100 years. Indeed, Archdeacon William Simms (Jamaica College headmaster from 1885-1916) wrote in a magazine of the period that caning should not be inflicted as a punishment for every offence. That was considered quite liberal in his day.

It was quite clear that Simms' successor William Cowper had absolutely opposite thinking on that subject. But it goes to show how long this discussion has been taking place.

While very few individuals in Jamaica are in favour of wanton child abuse, they argue that to take away the right of parents to inflict corporal punishment is an intrusion by Government in the family. I tend to agree. In the first place, we do not have the mechanism for dealing with recalcitrant children when the lack of corporal punishment does not work.

I do not subscribe to the argument that children who receive corporal punishment will always think in violent terms. That is not my experience or observation. It matters not which psychologist wrote that, and I care not how many or how high the university degree may be. What is true, though, is that an abused child will always either think violently or will go through life feeling intimidated.

I do not opine that all corporal punishment is abuse. Nor do I subscribe to the view that every child should be spanked. There are some children that do not give the sort of trouble where they would need this. To take away the right to corporal punishment is not going to go down well, regardless of whether the Inter-American Development Bank gives Jamaica the funding to implement the compulsory national identification system.

In any case, such a move to stop corporal punishment in families can have the Nineteen Eighty-Four impression of “Big Brother is watching you”. It may sound alarmist to point out the dangers of a police State. The police force is not popular in Jamaica and moves should be made to improve its relations image with the public. When the compulsory national identification system Bill is to be implanted and enforced, will this improve the perception of the police in the eyes of the public? It certainly is a question to consider.




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