Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Opposition questions Government's credibility over NIDS Bill

Published:Wednesday | November 15, 2017 | 12:14 AMPaul Clarke

 

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has called the credibility of the Government into question, after a clause in the National Identification System (NIDS) Bill that was removed in the House of Representatives was rehashed in the version that was recently passed by the Senate.

Speaking at the PNP's Old Hope Road offices yesterday, Phillips said that the fight for the rights of all Jamaicans did not begin with the NIDS debate last Friday and that the passing of the NIDS Bill in its current form raised a serious question of credibility for the Government.

"Despite the number of amendments that were secured by the senators to the legislation that was brought to the Senate, they still felt constrained by their consciences to vote against the final bill that was presented for a vote in the Senate and this was so for two main reasons," said Phillips.

"First of all is what you may call the mandatory provision that made it mandatory for citizens to register and provided for a massive fine for citizens who fail to register. Secondly, the provision in the bill that deny Jamaican citizens access to necessary public services because they would not be registered," he added

This latter clause was removed in the version of the bill which made to the House of Representative but yet was rehashed in the amendments that were brought by the Government to the bill in the Senate, according to the opposition leader.

"We found it objectionable in the Lower House and we find it objectionable still in the Upper House and this raises a serious issue of credibility because I think the population and indeed members of parliament generally, is entitled to accept the word of the Government," added Phillips.

He pointing out that when the bill was first tabled in the Lower House that the opposition argued that it was best referred to a Joint Committee of Parliament that would have been impaneled and that 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.

Phillips noted that it was important that the process was not seen as political and that it was necessary for bipartisan consultation, as citizens should not be denied the right of access to essential services such as light, water, health and fire response.

"The opposition senators could not support a law which denies Jamaicans essential services which their taxes pay for. So what (the opposition Senators) voted against was not the same Bill that was approved by the House of Representative," he noted.

The contentious Clause 41, Phillips noted, stands in breach of the Constitution, as the Charter of Rights guarantees every Jamaican the right to equitable treatment by any public authority in the exercise of any function.

He said that the Opposition and the PNP were not opposed to a national identification system, as in the past governments formed by the party, it led efforts to advance the process to a system and that such plans remained on the PNP's agenda as recently as up to 2015.

In addition, he said that he would be seeking the Parliament to effect changes to the bill, as he would not be waiting for a potential change of Government to seek to secure the changes he thinks are needed.

More than 80 minutes was spent debating the contentious Sections 41-44 of the NIDS Bill, which opposition senators consider extremely invasive.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com