House finally settles NIDS disputeThursday, October 14, 2021
BY BALFORD HENRY
Nearly 30 months after an initial draft Bill was rejected by the Constitutional Court, the National Identification and Registration Act, commonly called the NIDS Bill, was unanimously approved by the House of Representatives yesterday.
The Bill, which was first tabled in 2017, had failed to win the support of the Opposition, which had called for it to be reviewed by a joint select committee of Parliament.
Yesterday, it followed a much easier path to acceptance through the House of Representatives, with both sides agreeing on its value to the country's growth and development.
Although there were some disagreements over whether valuable time was lost in the delayed process of sending it to a joint select committee for wider assimilation, the Opposition stood by that position.
But the new Bill, which was tabled in December 2020 by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, easily slid through the committee stage of the final round of discussions in the House, despite attracting 14 more amendments in the process.
Holness, who closed the debate, welcomed the much friendlier atmosphere in which the legislation was passed yesterday, but insisted that the long wait to bring it to this stage was avoidable.
“I felt, Madam Speaker, that in many ways we have great vision, great hopes, but we have just constantly underperformed, that the world was passing us by because other societies were able to resolve the fundamental issues of equity and fairness and move ahead with all members of their society to embrace two things — new technology and new processes,” he said.
“But, in Jamaica, the fear of the people that if you introduce something new it could be used to deprive them of access; the fear that if you introduce something new it could take away their freedom; the fear that if you introduce something new that looks like it is going to give the Government more power, then that power would be used to abuse you and, therefore, you must oppose it, oppose it, oppose,” Holness added.
“It is our economic freedom that is going to secure our political freedom, and until every single Jamaican understands that, we will continue to quibble over the meaningless things and miss the important things, which is about getting our ability to be resilient from shock, to continue to produce, to increase our wealth nationally, and to be able to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable,” he stated.
He said that until the country is able to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable, until it is focused on those things, “we will continue coddling over nonsense and be distracted by all kinds of meaningless conversations”.
However, Opposition Member of Parliament Fitz Jackson felt that the prime minister strayed from the point in terms of his reactions to the positions held by the Opposition.
He said that, while there was consensus around the advantages of a digital society, amidst that there were some dangers that his side sought to address as best as it could, together.
“So that we could have a piece of legislation that whoever is in Government won't abuse it because it is the collective will of the Parliament and the leadership of this country, as we are seeking to achieve with the coronavirus pandemic that we have. To collaborate with the Government for Jamaica's sake,” Jackson responded.
But Holness rose on a point of clarity, stating that, “If we had passed this Bill earlier, regardless of the other issues which were obstacles to its passage, if we had done it earlier as a Parliament, we would have been ahead of the game.”
Having weathered its most threatening legislative challenge, the Bill will now go to the Senate, most likely by next week Friday, where the Government's 13-8 majority is expected to ensure safe passage without any further amendments.