Wed | Jun 26, 2019

Gov’t spent 2% of NIDS loan – Holness

Published:Thursday | May 9, 2019 | 12:16 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Though declaring that the contract that the Jamaican Government signed with PBS Solutions for the provision of hardware and software for its national identity project was “not fully executed”, Cabinet is exploring whether the State is in danger of liability if it scraps the deal.

The Government has so far spent US$1.36 million on its ambitious National Identification System initiative that is to be financed by an Inter-American Development Bank loan valued at US$68 million, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in Parliament on Tuesday.

That amount represents two per cent of the loan amount, 20 per cent of which is designated for the core buildout of NIDS.

Amid heated crosstalk between members of both sides of the House of Representatives, Holness provided answers to questions tabled by Julian Robinson, member of parliament for South East St Andrew, on April 16, seeking clarity on the Government’s expenditure on the court-halted NIDS project.

Last month, the Constitutional Court ruled that the underpinning legislation of NIDS, the National Identification Registration Act, was null and void and without effect because it breached privacy rights. The unanimous decision was announced by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes.

terse response

Halfway through his presentation, Holness was drawn to respond to an off-mic statement from an opposition member, triggering a terse response.

“Do you want to know how much your government (administration) spent on NIDS and never even brought a bill to this House? Do you want to know? I would advise you not to say a word; I would advise you not to even raise the matter,” said Holness.

Holness told Parliament that no money was spent on hiring advisers or permanent staff but conceded that US$17,958 had been spent on consultants, with a further US$497,000 expended on temporary project staff.

Nearly half a million US dollars has been spent on advertising and communications, the prime minister added, and US$286,000 on the purchase of equipment and technology. He noted, however, that no funds had been spent on data collection.

Radio, TV, online and print advertisements on NIDS, running from May 8, 2018, to April 10, 2019, was US$497,000.

Robinson chastised the Government’s decision to continue promoting NIDS while awaiting the court ruling, saying that the Holness administration was driven by arrogance and demonstrated gross disrespect and contempt for the judicial process of the country.

But the prime minister shot back at Robinson, calling the Opposition hypocritical.

“Let us address frontally the issue raised by the member from South East St Andrew as to whether or not this Government, in proceeding with the NIDS project, was disrespectful to another branch of equal standing of the Government.

“... If the member feels he can throw across the aisle false accusations, then I feel entitled to also say that the Opposition has been hypocritical and untruthful in their characterisation of the NIDS project,” he said to shouts of approval from the Government members.

Holness noted that the Government had accepted the court’s ruling and was reviewing the judgment.

“But I can indicate, even without that review being completed, that it is still the intention of this Government to come back to the people of Jamaica with the appropriate legislation that meets the parameters set by the court,” he said.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com