Get serious!

PM says support for national ID system needed to fight corruption

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

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AHEAD of the anticipated conclusion of the raging impasse between Government and Opposition senators on the National Identification and Registration Bill in the Upper House today, Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday touted the legislation as a critical plank for the fight against corruption.

He argued that people cannot be held to account if the authorities are unable to identify them.

Government legislators in the Upper House are pressing ahead with the Bill despite a staunch pushback from Opposition senators, who argue that it lacks coherent policy and public comment. The stand-off played out in the Senate from Friday afternoon into the wee hours of Saturday morning with the senators gridlocked at the committee stage.

The Opposition senators, like their leader did during the debate in the Lower House, have called for the Bill to go to a joint select committee for further scrutiny, but deliberations are already at committee stage and slated to continue today.

“We cannot talk conveniently, we must act even if it brings some discomfort… at the heart of any anti-corruption exercise (or) any measure to bring transparency accountability, integrity, is to establish the who. You can't fight corruption by saying everyone is corrupt. Accountability requires a who — identifying who brings transparency. So if we are not serious about identifying people then we can't really be saying that we are serious about tackling corruption,” Holness stated.

He was speaking at a certification ceremony for a batch of 400 integrity ambassadors under a National Integrity Action (NIA), Council for Voluntary Social Services, and United States Agency for International Development-supported programme at the Merle Grove High School in St Andrew, yesterday.

The prime minister further argued that anti-corruption efforts require a process of establishing, verifying, and certifying identity, as the practice of using several databases of identity with different standards, without a means of cross-matching information, does not facilitate transparency.

“It allows a corrupt person to escape accountability, it creates an ecosystem of informality, permissiveness, and dark corners in which corruption hides and thrives,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Holness called on the NIA to add its voice to the debate, but Executive Director Professor Trevor Munroe told the Jamaica Observer that his organisation was not in a position to speak on the Bill as it has not yet reviewed the proposed legislation. He noted, however, that the debate in the Senate is robust; “as it should be”.

The Bill is aimed at creating a national civil registry and would require the gathering of personal information from citizens.

It was passed in the House of Representatives in September with 100 amendments after a fiery debate, and again the Opposition's colleagues in the Upper House are also putting up resistance to the passage of the Bill in its current form.

The Opposition senators have protested the speed with which the bill is being moved through the Senate, given the depth of personal information which the registry will require. Opposition Senator Floyd Morris has questioned whether the legislation could violate the constitutional rights of mentally challenged and disabled individuals.

When the issue of data protection was raised in the House, Prime Minister Holness assured that the cyber security around the National Identification System (NIDS) database would be “military-grade”.

The NIDS, which has been in the making since 2009, is set for rollout in January 2018. NIDS is a biometric identification system with a unique identification number for every Jamaican and is to be managed by a new agency — the National Identification Registration Authority — which will replace the Registrar General's Department.

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