Sat | Jan 20, 2018

Letter of the Day | Don't waste millions on new national ID

Published:Friday | October 21, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Our prime minister recently proudly announced that our much-anticipated national ID system will begin rollout in 2018, boasting cradle-to-grave biometric indexes and a price tag somewhere in excess of US$5 million. What an astronomical waste of resources!

Don't get me wrong: I am sure this system is a brilliant wish list of wonderful nice-to-haves, and we would undoubtedly be catapulted to the front of the line of national IDs. In fact, our larger and much wealthier neighbours to the north - Canada and the United States - do not have such a system, though they seem to do reasonably well without it.

But do we need it? And, more important, can we afford it? It seems an ostentatious waste when you consider that Jamaica is a country of just three million people, where 'everybody know everybody' and 'we bruk like a church mouse'. But do we need a system? Yes! Unreservedly! But do we need to spend such a vast sum? That's where I am in disagreement.

The tax registration number (TRN) is, whether we like it or not, Jamaica's de facto national ID. We need it to do business with the Government or to conduct any formal transaction on the island. Where is it not required? When registering deaths, marriages or when enumerating for voting. All this can be fixed with legislation and would have to be done for any proposed national ID.

The TRN has already achieved an extremely high degree of pervasiveness. The fact that it is required everywhere creates a high degree of referential integrity, something essential for any national ID to be truly successful. And while it does not require a biometric at time of issue, it is the reference number on our driver's licence, thus establishing it as a biometric indexed ID.




Why not simply build out a modification to our driver's licence system and have the same equipment generate national identifications. And for those already registered in the database with driver's licences, generate the national IDs for them from the same database.

A national ID, with minimal dislocation to the status quo, immediately activated, could give us basis to remove dead people from the voters' list, update pensions without life certificates (saving millions of dollars), and avoid a US$5-million price tag.

Why then push to spend this money rather than improving on what we already have? Think of the transformational difference that US$500m (J$640m) could make to our education system, the heart to our economic growth, as this is where the capacity of our human capital is expanded and developed.

Mr Prime Minister, appointing economic czars, economic growth councils and renaming ministries so they have economic growth tagged on somewhere is not the answer. Putting resources to work effectively and efficiently is the key to pulling Jamaica out of its economic malaise.