THE Jamaican Government has indicated that it will be fast-tracking the implementation of the national identification system (NIDS) as part of its response to the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness, addressing Jamaicans during a digital press briefing at his offices in St Andrew yesterday, said it was clear that if the country had put in place a national system of identification prior, then it would be far easier for the Government to provide an individualised benefit system that would be to the profit of all.
“The truth is, we now don’t have that system; we are behind in our implementation; we still have new legislation to bring to the Cabinet and to the Parliament but we cannot waste a crisis,” the prime minister said.
“Now is the time when we really need to have the system and we are going to move as quickly as possible within the boundaries of the law and the constitution to ensure that every citizen of Jamaica has a unique identifier that will be able to ensure that whatever benefit comes from the Government will go directly to them,” he said.
The introduction of the system, which aims to provide a comprehensive and secure structure to enable the capture and storage of personal identity information for citizens and persons residing in Jamaica, has been plagued by controversy and concerns that the constitutional rights of individuals would be trespassed on.
The Government, however, has maintained that NIDS will become the primary source for identity assurance and verification, and will result in improved governance and management of social, economic and security programmes.
It is envisioned that a reliable database of all Jamaican citizens will be established and that each citizen will be issued a unique lifelong national identification number (NIN). In the long term, the NIN may be used alongside a multi-purpose card, or be uploaded onto smartphones. The use of biometric (fingerprint or retina) scans is also being explored.
In a press conference earlier this week, Holness called on businesses operating on the margins of the formal economy to register, in order to be able to access assistance from the Government when there are economic challenges.
“In between the aspirations and what we can actually deliver, there is a gap. There is a gap of implementation and there is a gap of systems. We presently cannot identify every single Jamaican, so beneficiary identification systems are not as strong as they should be. What we are learning in crisis is that we need to be able to identify all Jamaicans,” he said.
“This is the real test of the society now. Are we, in a time of crisis, able to identify everyone? And the answer is no,” he remarked.
He noted that some persons and entities, such as those in the entertainment and public transportation sector, may not be able to access the assistance programmes being rolled out by the Government.
“We have a large informal system particularly that covers bars and taxi men; will the benefits that we are proposing here actually get to them? It’s very difficult to say. We are opening the door if they become formalised, but if they don’t, it’s going to be very difficult to take up taxpayers’ resources which are formally placed in the system and prioritise those who are not formally in the system versus those who have taken the time to register,” he outlined.
He added that “now is the time to become formal. The Government is not your enemy; we are here to help and we want to know every single Jamaican. Now is the time to get your business registered”.
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