Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Mark Wignall | When the PNP loved NIDS

Published:Sunday | November 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM

This is not a story of history as much as it is the fairly recent words which tell you that the PNP, when it held power, was just as bullish on getting NIDS across the starting line as the present JLP administration is anxious to see it brought to reality. So, it is not even news.

Speaking on March 28, 2012 at the opening ceremony of a three-day NIDS seminar at the Terra Nova Hotel, minister with responsibility for information, Sandrea Falconer, carried the words of Prime Minister Simpson Miller on her lips when she said, "The absence of a central identification system, and not having the right piece of identification, often leads to all kinds of frustrating experiences for our citizens, especially for the poor - whether it is in applying for a job, opening a bank account, accessing services, including the services of government, or even registering for an educational opportunity."

On that the PNP was dead right. To be quite fair to the party that now occupies the benches of the Opposition, its members did recognise a public-education component and a final rollout by 2019. Maybe why in 2017, it is placing its political horse to a well-worn hitching post and badgering the JLP administration on procedures is simply that it would have liked to have been the ruling party and government when NIDS became a household reality.

In that way, NIDS would have added to its rÈsumÈ, no matter the policy evolution increasingly carried out by both the JLP and the PNP where an important aspect of governance is one administration taking the policy baton and passing to the next administration/party.

Ideally for a political party, the best time to design popular (or unpopular) social policy is in the first year of a second term. Doing that tends to fulfil a timing that is likely to see the policy becoming reality just at the end of the second term. The hope is that the popular move will increase the party's chance at another shot at power.

Much has happened since that paradigm was the accepted vogue. Now, a party is likely to enjoy only the first year of the term as being seen useful, valid and needed by significant numbers of our people. After that, policy fatigue sets in as various ministers begin to go through the motions instead of writing any more scripts for the dance. For that main reason, no second term is guaranteed anymore in our faster-paced information highway electorate.

 

PNP Government fully on board with NIDS

 

In April 2013, an item on the JIS website captures the importance that the then PNP administration saw in bringing NIDS to reality. "Plans for the development of a National Identification System (NIDS) have been advanced with a further allotment of $32.48 million.

"The funds have been set aside in the 2013-14 Estimates of Expenditure, now before the House of Representatives."

At that time, not many people at street level saw NIDS as either an intrusive policy or one complementary to our social and economic development. It wasn't sexy enough to occupy much time in bars, little shops and in informal gatherings across thousands of communities across the country.

The JIS website in April 2013 states, "In the meantime, the Government is providing $14.89 million to assist the National Registration (Preparatory) Unit with carrying out its duties. This is the unit responsible for overseeing the activities being undertaken to support the establishment of NIDS."

Historically, our people do not like to believe that a specific government policy is being forced on them, even if it is to the people's own long-term benefits. We like to be comfortable with policy and parts of it have to be doled out to us, massaged into our system, and given to us like a young child is read to at nights by a doting and caring parent.

When the full seat belt laws and sanctions were rolled out, I had doubts on its effectiveness. Now just about every driver that I see on the road is wearing seat belts. Some things have to be forced on us for our own sake. A needed complement to that is cell phone use while driving where one hand is off the wheel.

That aside, based on the general confidence that we were told that the PNP government of 2013 had in itself, it is not far-fetched to conclude that the party felt that it would occupy Jamaica House in 2017. Had that been the case I am sure that a PNP government in 2017 would probably be following the same footpaths as the Holness-led JLP administration is currently taking on NIDS, procedural hang-ups and all.

"All politicians know how convenient it is to practise political hypocrisy because they are still convinced that wide swathes of the electorate can be swayed by crooked thinking and fake reasoning," I said to a JLP minister last Thursday morning as we were discussing the matter of the new urgency in NIDS.

"I see it differently," he said in referring to the PNP. "It's pure bad mind."

 

Crime and the NIDS urgency

 

Policy timelines are never set in stone, so even if the full rollout date is some time in 2019, the fact is that Jamaicans, many of them in 2017, are suffering undue tension because of the constant murders. That will only threaten to reach that critical mass of concern and fear that brings us closer to full-blown chaos.

Thankfully, we are not quite there yet, but the trend is troubling. In March 2015, the same JIS website was telling us that the PNP administration still had its foot on the NIDS accelerator pedal. Stated a section of the site, "Up to December 2014, achievements under the project include: 12 terms of references developed and approved by the Inter-American Development Bank for recruitment of consultant; and a NIDS three-day seminar held in March 2012, with a focus on international trends in identity management.

"In addition, a NIDS policy was finalised and a Green Paper Stage Cabinet Submission developed. A Cabinet note was previously presented May 19, 2014 with a project status update. Further, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was established July 24, 2012 between the Office of the Prime Minister and eGov Jamaica Limited to support the Information and Communications Technology consultancies."

We should not assume that having suffered losses in the general and local government elections in 2016 and a hotly contested by-election in the swing seat of South East St Mary that it's only the PNP experiencing internal jitters.

The governing JLP administration can never be sure at which stage a majority among the electorate will simply run out of patience with Holness and his team over the increases in the murder rate. The danger in this is that while major sectors in the electorate can act rationally at times, no electorate can follow that script for long.

At some stage, where the people no longer believe that that the Government has any soothing words left and all of its plans to bring down the murder rate are worthless, there could come a change where the people listen less and bleed in fear more.

At that stage, even though the people are fully aware that crime and the murderers respect no political party, they may find themselves listening more to the complaints of the PNP. That is what has the potential to whittle away at the overall performance of Holness.

The JLP administration needs to rush the rollout of NIDS and iron out its kinks as we go along. Surely what is already written has been debated, if not to death in the early hours of the morning, then certainly to the point where many can say that anything useful and needed in the the fight against crime and in solving murders must be fully supported.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.