Wed | Oct 17, 2018

Mark Wignall | Let's embrace the National ID

Published:Thursday | November 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM

The Jamaican had made Germany his home for the last 37 years and he had something to say about the controversy swirling over legislation on National Identification System (NIDS) as he called me earlier this week.

"She was travelling from Jamaica and on arrival at the airport in Hamburg, her papers were in a mess. Jamaican passport: fake; travel papers: fake. Still they decided to allow her entry with a caveat. If she should show up again at any point of entry in Germany with any fake papers, she would be detained and sent back to Jamaica.

"But the main reason they let her in was her German contact. The person she was travelling to see was a German national and at the airport they pulled up all of the necessary data on him by simply entering his name in their own national ID system. As long as the authorities had his name as her point of contact she was trackable."

Jamaica has had a long history of resisting change even in the pre-independence period. When then premier, Norman Manley, authorised work in what was then the Negril swamps in the late 1950s, he was criticised. As a child, I can remember in the early 1960s grown adults predicting that the cantilever roof over the grandstand at the National Stadium would 'soon break away' and fall, thus killing hundreds of people.

That latter criticism was made out of a culture which stated that if a roof was not built in the standard, one-side-up-another-side-down, it was not a proper roof. And surely, equally to blame was national ignorance on the laws of physics. Very few really understood the science behind the cantilever structure.

Even the Seaga move of the waterfront from downtown to Newport West was criticised.

Jamaica should long have been at 98 per cent literacy and at least 90 per cent numeracy. As it is, we are still less than 90 per cent literate, much less functionally so, and our appalling numeracy rate can be practically assessed just by asking a few mechanics, masons, plumbers, electricians and new school leavers at street level the most basic questions on fractions and percentages.




Significant percentages of our electorate are a politician's dream but there are also nightmarish scenarios existing right alongside that. The ability of a politician to spew nonsense from the political podium must be balanced by the extent to which an increasing number of our people are beginning to see through the haze.

In any well-ordered society a national identification system is mandatory. We can always argue that the sanctions involved are too restrictive or expensive but it should never be even moot that a national ID is a choice.

Close to half of those adults 18 years of age and over who register to vote do so mainly because they desire an official ID. They have neither passport nor driver's licence, and many times, they have little interest in voting.

As one who has long called for this system, I see it as a great item in the forensic toolbox in crime-fighting and detection. At the beginning, no criminal who believes his fingerprints have been collected and stored but he has still managed to elude the law will want to sign up for this mandatory national ID. He operates at his own peril.

I can easily see a scenario five or 10 years from now when a few men are picked up based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Those with the national ID are processed immediately. Those without are held but must either present convincing reason why they are without it, subject themselves to the sanctions, and all biometric data should be captured.

As people who practise petty or serious criminality are likely not to have a national ID, the police authorities will be able to narrow down the sample of people who are more likely to be involved in criminal activities than those less likely to do so.

I can quite understand the valid criticisms and the unnecessary noise from the opposition People's National Party (PNP). A hot-button item like NIDS would naturally invoke attention from a PNP, which badly needs additional exposure of the good kind.

Losing fairly contested elections is never good news for an opposition party so it has no choice but to go all in in the NIDS debate, in and outside of Parliament.