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Marathon debate - Government pushes for passage of ID bill way into the night

Published:Friday | November 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMEdmond Campbell
Concerned Jamaican citizens took up position outside Gordon House yesterday. They have issues with the National Identification System, which the senators were debating on the inside.

The Government pushed ahead with plans to pass the National Identification Registration Act last night despite strong recommendations from the parliamentary Opposition for the bill to be referred to a select committee of the Upper House.

Members of the parliamentary Opposition urged the Government to allow the Jamaica Bar Association, Jamaicans for Justice, and other groups to make submissions on the bill to a select committee of the Senate.

Senators spent more than nine hours debating the bill, which had 23 pages of amendments. In addition, three pages of corrections to the amendments were also tabled yesterday. The bill was passed in the Lower House with more than 100 amendments.

"This bill ought not to be proceeded with in the state that it is in. It lacks public comment, and it lacks a coherent policy," senior opposition Senator K.D. Knight said.

"This bill is not for us. It's for the people of Jamaica," said Knight. "We have the responsibility to pass it, but we do not have the autonomy to do whatever it is that we will because they elected us as their agent, and we have been selected as representatives of the Parliament."

"If there is respect for the voice of the citizens, then the procedure allows for that voice to be heard," Knight said.

Government Senator Pearnel Charles Jr said that the Senate should not view the amendments as negative, but as a way of doing business.

He indicated that while there were risks, the benefits far outweighed those concerns. Charles Jr noted that the concerns raised by the Opposition and other groups have been respected, but the cost of inaction was far too high.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate Kamina Johnson Smith said that the plethora of amendments to the bill was due to the administration's desire to make changes as a result of concerns raised by the public. "I want to assure those groups that have expressed concerns that they have been heard."

She said that the bill would be reviewed after an 18-month period.

Government senators stressed that discussions on a national identification card for Jamaicans had been ongoing for more than 40 years, and the time had come for the legislation to be passed.


Editor's note: Up to press time the senators were still reviewing the bill at the committee stage