Sat | Jul 20, 2019

Ronald Thwaites | ‘Naked politics’?

Published:Monday | April 15, 2019 | 12:09 AM

“Naked politics dressed in the form of a right” is how the Government’s lawyer, the leader of the nation’s Bar, tried to pour scorn on Julian Robinson’s contention that the National Identification and Registration Act violated the fundamental rights of all Jamaicans by its unwarranted scope and invasion of privacy.

Well, that insult boomeranged last week. The Full Court of the Supreme Court vindicated Robinson’s concerns and struck down the hubris and arrogance of a Government, our Government, mind you, who wanted to afflict us with a mandatory and invasive identification system, prone to be hacked in the absence of a proper data-protection system.

You should try to read the judgments in order to appreciate first and foremost the value of an independent judiciary, and then to admire the depth and quality of reasoning they bring to the issue of constitutionality, and especially to the sacredness of the Charter of Rights.

In contrast to the court’s principled approach, let us rehearse the background to the matter of a national identification system. Recall the scramble to ram this law through Parliament before the end of 2017.

Because they wanted to get money from the Inter-American Development Bank, there would be no time to refer the bill for examination by a select committee of the House and Senate, despite the considerable public outcry about some of its terms and requirements.

Without consideration of alternatives for data harvesting, the law would compel you to give your eye scan, your fingerprints, foot and toe prints and much more intimate data, and to convict you repeatedly of a criminal offence if you resisted.

Stubbornness and obstinacy prevailed and the Jamaica Labour Party members passed the bill into law, even after indicating that a vote would be deferred, and without the Opposition being present. Despite the contrived urgency, more than a year after passage, the law still has not been brought into effect. So much for that piece of deceit.

Then following Prime Minister Andrew Holness stating that his Government, even after passage, would still entertain further discussion, came Andrew’s peevish attempt to put down Dr Daniel Thomas’ sincere questioning at a public forum.

Soon after, Dr Peter Phillips filed a motion to refer the law, after all, to a select committee, but that effort has been ignored for over a year.

All this, despite the fact that an effective system of national registration, like so much else, has no hope of succeeding without national consensus.

MILLIONS WASTED

The administration chose to listen to nobody but themselves and their own media echo. So Julian Robinson took the issue to the constitutional court, where the Government’s own case was embarrassingly presented and last week, conclusively rejected. Whose “naked politics” are on display now?

In the meanwhile, millions of the borrowed money, which all of us will have to pay back, has been wasted to promote a system, the foundation of which no longer exists. Also, without even the decency and respect to wait for the impending court decision, we have been told of an expensive contract struck recently to provide NIDS infrastructure. Who is going to pay for all that?

All this betrays a mentality of high-handedness. It is of the same texture that has produced Petroscam and the Ministry of Education allegations.

So what happens now? Will the administration, still suffused with its own false pride, try to appeal the Full Court’s findings, or will they do what should have been done from the start: revert to fulsome consultations with the Opposition and all other interested parties so as to craft a consensual NIDS Bill that squares with the Constitution and achieves all the benefits and safeguards required for national registration?

Boastfulness and conceit about your own temporary power are the opposite of the servant leadership which justifies the titles of ‘Honourable’ and ‘Most Honourable’. A reflection of the events of this Holy Week should recommend a different approach to all of us.

- Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.