Gov't OKs NIDS - Opposition considering court challenge
Senate amendments to the controversial National Identification Registration Act 2017, otherwise called the NIDS bill, received unanimous support from Government lawmakers in the Lower House yesterday in the absence of the parliamentary Opposition. The Opposition had earlier exited the chamber following a "20-minute" suspension of the sitting by Speaker of the House, Pearnel Charles.
At the same time, Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips vowed that the Opposition would challenge the constitutionality of the bill in the courts if the Government pressed ahead with the law in its current form.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who piloted the NIDS bill, had earlier asked that the proposed legislation, which was sent from the Senate with 168 amendments, be considered at a later date.
However, Phillips moved a motion calling for the bill to be withdrawn and referred to a joint select committee for further review.
This triggered an extended debate over parliamentary rules, which caused the acting leader of government business, Everald Warmington, to ask for a suspension of the sitting.
WE SHALL OVERCOME
As Charles put the motion of suspension to members of the House, he was met with a chorus of "nos" from opposition lawmakers.
The opposition members later broke out singing: "We shall overcome, we shall overcome, deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day."
The Government side hit back as they sang, "My leader born ya" in an apparent jab at the People's National Party, which selected Dr Shane Alexis, a Canadian, to run in the St Mary South East by-election. He was beaten by the Jamaica Labour Party's Dr Norman Dunn.
During the break, the parliamentary Opposition called a press conference, labelling the Government's approach to passing the legislation "chaka-chaka".
Phillips said the Opposition did not see it possible to continue in the sitting and, therefore, left the House.
"We don't find it possible to continue in the sitting in the House as it is being conducted," he said.
He said his reason for suggesting that the bill be referred to a joint select committee was to "enable the regulations which speak to data protection issues to be considered and to allow us also to consider the Data Protection Bill".
He said the proposed legislation was badly prepared and "badly considered", noting that the bill had 68 clauses and 268 amendments.
Phillips said there was no real opportunity for "any stakeholder, any member of the public, any interested party to participate in discussions of any one of those amendments".
COMPLETING THE RELAY
In closing debate on the bill, Holness said the Government had discussions with a team from the Opposition who insisted that a mandatory clause should be included in the NIDS law.
The Opposition has complained bitterly about the mandatory provision in Clause 20 of the bill.
According to Holness, when the Opposition formed the Government, they had also included a fine of $100,000 for persons who refused to comply with the law.
"I am merely completing the several legs of the relay that the Opposition started," Holness said to loud applause from government members of parliament.
The prime minister told parliamentarians that the Government has amended the law to remove the punishment of imprisonment for breaches.
He insisted that a judge had the discretion not to impose a fine on persons who violated the law. "A judge can use discretion and I am expecting that they will," he said.
Holness insisted that the legislation would not deprive Jamaicans of their rights, adding that "my aim is to expand the rights of Jamaicans.
"We cannot continue to look at the Jamaican State as the enemy of the people. I am a strong advocate of preserving the rights of the people," said the prime minister.
He charged that every day Jamaicans give up their privacy to Facebook, Twitter, and telephone companies.
"There is a notion that privacy is nobody knows. That's not privacy. What is privacy is that you have a State that protects your information that only who should have access gets access," Holness stated.
He said a strong, honest State with integrity was needed to protect the privacy of Jamaicans.
As Holness closed the debate on the bill, member of parliament for Manchester North East, Audley Shaw, declared: "Be strong and courageous; that is what you are doing."
The prime minister asked for the concurrence of members of the Government with the amendments from the Senate and they did with a rapturous response.