Peter Phillips | We support national ID, but …
I want to first acknowledge the work of the caucus of the eight opposition senators for the robust contribution to the debate on National Identification System (NIDS) that is making its way through the Houses of Parliament. I want also to acknowledge the many accolades and messages of support received from the party and several civil-society and professional groups that have expressed solidarity and given encouragement as we led the fight to get the best bill possible for the country.
I wish to note that the fight for the rights of all Jamaicans did not begin last Friday in the Senate. I further note that the bill that was tabled in the Senate was not the bill that was passed in the House of Representatives with more than 100 amendments.
When the bill was first tabled in the Lower House, we argued that:
1. This bill was best to be referred to a joint select committee of Parliament.
2. Issues concerning data security, its protection and sharing are of critical importance, and as such, the Data Protection Act ought to have been debated at the same time. This is important, especially in light of the low-trust environment in the country.
3. The importance of the process not to be seen as political, and the necessity for bipartisan consultation. This led to an amendment that the Opposition must be consulted by the prime minister on board appointments.
4. Citizens should not be denied the right of access to essential services such as power, water, health, fire.
LACK OF UNCLEAR POLICIES
In addition to the amendments secured in the Lower House, the senators managed to secure another 168 amendments. Added to the 100 in the Lower House, there are now 268 amendments in total. That in and of itself is a statement of the lack of clear policies and objectives that led to a very flawed draft and a bad bill that the Government circulated and had wished that we rubber-stamped through the Parliament.
In the end, the PNP senators still had to vote against the bill because it failed to meet two important thresholds.
The first is that the bill calls for mandatory registration with a huge fine for failure to register and; second, it would deny essential goods and services to Jamaicans in their own country. The latter clause, in particular, was removed from the House of Representatives and was sneaked back into the version that went to the Senate. This is a serious issue of credibility that the governing side would try that kind of tactic, believing that the senators would rubber-stamp the bill having passed the Lower House. I would go further. If the people cannot trust legislators, we are in serious trouble.
I should also add that the Senate is a review chamber. We have the burden of ensuring that Jamaicans always get the best legislation out of our Parliament. Our senators are independent in that process and must exercise due diligence at all times.
For this reason, the PNP has never required its appointees to the Senate to sign undated letters of resignation, which was a requirement of the current prime minister which the courts have ruled unconstitutional.
What are the next steps? Let it be clear: The People's National Party is not against NIDS. Indeed, in the past, governments formed by the party led efforts to advance the process for a national ID system. As recently as 2015, it remained on the PNP's agenda.
Our objections to the present process, therefore, are based on provisions in this NIDS bill and the indecent rush to push it through Parliament, using the JLP's majority, rather than allowing national consultation.
When it was first laid in the Lower House, we asked for a joint select committee to allow groups of citizens the opportunity to have a say in the decision, which will affect all Jamaicans in many ways for a long time. The Government has made claims of consultations, but many have differed.
I wish to place on record our discontent with the approach adopted by the Government of rushing through important pieces of legislation, and not giving credence to people's participation.
On behalf of the Opposition, we expect that the bill containing the amendments agreed on in the Upper House will now come back to the House of Representatives to be voted on, and then on to His Excellency for assent.
We continue to believe Clause 41 is in breach of the Jamaican Constitution. This is so the Charter of Rights gives every Jamaicans the right to equitable treatment by any public authority in the exercise of any function. However, in the NIDS bill, to access this right as per Section 41, you must first have registered with NIDS.
This is an area that we are studying and will not hesitate to challenge its constitutionality in court in protection of the people's rights.
- Dr Peter Phillips is president of the People's National Party. Email feedback to email@example.com.