Editorial | Postpone NIDS passage
We are forced to again commend to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, and to governments generally, our old mantra: What is worse than the formulation of bad or flaw policies is to actually implement them.
In this case, it may not be, as the Government insists is the case, that the policy is bad. Yet, there is public fear that it could be dangerous. In which event, it would make sense that the Government retreat while it attempts to convince Jamaicans of the merits of its argument as well as listen closely to the people’s complaints.
Our reference is to the controversial National Identification System (NIDS) bill, which we suspect the Holness administration hopes to bring back to the House today for final passage, after contentious debate in the Senate with a full wrack of amendments.
The NIDS bill, which was tabled in Parliament several months ago, aims to create NIDS, whose card, with a unique registration number, will be required to do business with the Government and to access its services. What makes this law different is that registration, unlike other identity systems in use in Jamaica, will be compulsory and an individual’s identity will be determined not only by his registration number, but biodata embedded in the registration card and centrally stored. Further, the Government, under certain circumstances, will be able to share stored bio-data information with other of its agencies.
Government officials had early on touted the bill for its potential use as a crime-fighting tool, but, more recently, the administration has been focusing its advantage in the Government’s planning and delivery of services in a country with a high level of informality, both in terms of housing settlements and the names used by individuals.
Critics complain about the law’s potential intrusiveness, the possibility that it steps on people’s constitutional right to privacy, and that it could wrongfully exclude some citizens, even if they pay their taxes, from government goods and services to which they are rightly entitled.
A DEEPER REVIEW
When the bill reached the Senate recently, it passed only after a sustained filibuster by opposition members, who failed in an attempt to have it sent to a joint select committee of Parliament, where stakeholders would weigh in on its contents. The government side contended that there had already been sufficient consultations, reflected by the 168 amendments to the bill made in the Senate, adding to the 100 made in the Lower House.
However, the Opposition worryingly claimed that original elements of a key clause, to which critical amendments were made in the House, were sneaked back into the bill that was sent to the Senate. That, if it is true, raises serious questions of trust and, of itself, would justify a deeper review. The fundamental reason for the administration’s haste, though, is that the Inter-American Development Bank is providing Jamaica with a US$68-million loan to implement NIDS and the law has to be in place in time for the December meetings of the IDB board for the loan to be approved if it is to fall within the 2018 Budget/funding cycle.
This newspaper, which has sympathy for some of the aims of NIDS, appreciates the timing constraints as the Government sees them. However, protecting constitutional rights and securing the people’s trust are worth more than losing one’s place in a funding cycle. That opportunity won’t be gone forever.
Months ago, we urged Prime Minister Holness to open a national dialogue on NIDS. Instead, the Government, it appears, chose discreet conversations, which, clearly, were wanting. It’s not too late to get it right.