PRIME Minister Andrew Holness has described as "dangerous, unnecessary and ridiculous" an emerging trend that he says is being stoked by individuals he classifies as "opportunists and political entrepreneurs" and who are using "fear and conspiracy theories" to pit Jamaicans against Government's digital transformation effort.
Delivering opening remarks Wednesday at the 'Road to Digital Government' forum hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on how digital transformation can strengthen the public sector and the Government at the AC Hotel Kingston, Holness emphasised that integrating technology will not remove the rights and freedoms of citizens.
"Digital transformation is about rethinking how institutions, both public and private, deliver service, meet their mandate, and remain relevant. It is about making government services more accessible. It is about reduced administrative burdens to companies [and]empowering public officers to maximise their talents to the benefit of the people," the prime minister said.
"It is about providing and delivering better services to our people, increasing our communication to our citizens and customers, and serving our citizens, customers' needs by providing, better and improved experiences when they do business with us," he noted, adding that the right to privacy and self-determination and the right to be different will not be taken away.
"Digital transformation can be a powerful equaliser through enabling financial inclusion and educational inclusion. But first, we must ensure that there is digital inclusion by eliminating the digital divide. Your Government has been working hard to achieve the objective of digital access for every Jamaican," he stated.
Taking aim at Opposition Leader Mark Golding and other Jamaicans who, he said, have been voicing "concerns about digital payments" on their social media platforms, the prime minister slammed their arguments as "stupidness".
"Technology is so ubiquitous these days, it's all around us, and the very people who spread a gospel against technology they are using technology to spread rumours and lies and misinformation about technology. In other words, the very technology that they criticise is the very technology that they are using to enable their mischief," Holness said.
"I saw some things circulating on the Internet and my good friend, the leader of the Opposition, is among those who have circulated — and I am being very polite — concerns about digital payments. There is no attempt by the Government to remove cash/paper money from the system," the prime minister said.
"Stop for one moment, be rational. Why would the Government spend billions to change currency to a new, durable banknote only to turn around and take it out of the system? Don't you see it is stupidness? But the number of people who have swallowed it makes me worried about what Jamaicans are consuming as information. I am worried. Where is our reasoning? Stupidity! It is stupid. Pardon my departure from calmness, but I have to call it out. There is no mandate to go cashless," Holness said further.
Turning to concerns that the Government will be able to restrict transactions when digital currency becomes the order of the day, Holness said, "Yes, there are concerns about digital currencies. You have central bank digital currencies, and many others, but there is a market for digital currency and people are investing in the technology and in the currencies themselves."
He added: "The same threats that exist with digital currency, some of the same threats exist with cash. The issue is what are our laws to protect consumers? That is what we must ask about and not fear technology."
In the meantime, he said with the roll-out of the national identification system (NIDS) increased focus will be given to a national digital payment system.
Pointing to the experience of Rwanda and Kenya with digital transactions, Holness said, "Their people have embraced it. Black people like us, but wise enough not to be caught in conspiracy theories and embrace the future. What we are saying, that we shouldn't have this kind of convenience or it is going to bring the end of times? Ridiculous!"
"I would like to take the opportunity to assure everyone that neither the digital currency nor the digital ID will be mandatory. There will be no compulsion to use them. If you choose to use them, hooray to you; if you choose not to, your choice," the prime minister said.
"No one will be left behind. We know many are not digital natives; we have started to put together a strategy to help persons who may find it difficult to use devices and manipulate websites," he added.
Only 13 per cent of Jamaicans report using the Internet to access government services in the past year, while 60 per cent of people 60 or older say they do not feel adaptive to the digital world, and half of Jamaicans do not trust the State's capacity to protect their personal data.