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JAMAICA | National ID Bill passed amidst walkout by Opposition PNP

Featured Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips sought to have the Government withdraw the National Identification and Registration Act (NIDS Bill) and send it to a joint select committee of Parliament for further review. The the Speaker refused to put a motion sought by Dr. Phillips resulting in an opposition walk out. Opposition Leader Dr. Peter Phillips sought to have the Government withdraw the National Identification and Registration Act (NIDS Bill) and send it to a joint select committee of Parliament for further review. The the Speaker refused to put a motion sought by Dr. Phillips resulting in an opposition walk out.
KINGSTON,  November 22, 2016 - Amidst vehement protest by the Opposition Peoples National Party and a subsequent walkout by its members in protest against the Government's  refusal to withdraw the Bill, the  the much-debated National Identification and Registration Act (NIDS Bill) was passed by a one sided parliament.

The Opposition had walked out of the meeting of the House of Representatives after the Speaker refused to put  to the vote, a motion by Dr Peter Phillips, to have the Government withdraw the Bill and send it to a joint select committee of Parliament for further review.

House Speaker Pearnel Charles Sr ordered a 20-minute break to discuss the matter, after disallowing the motion moved by Dr Phillips.

During the break, Opposition MPs went immediately to their conference room, where they staged a press conference, while Government MPs retreated to their meeting room.

At the press briefing at Gordon House, the opposition insisted that there was no need for further deliberations with the Government and demanded that the Bill be withdrawn.

After about an hour after the break ordered by the speaker, the Government Members returned to the chamber and decided to go ahead with their debate on the Bill, by which time the opposition members has left the precincts of the Parliament. 

Prime Minister Andrew Holness explained why the Government went ahead with the vote, noting that he had initially requested the speaker to allow more time for the Opposition to review the 168 amendments made in the Senate.
 
“I want it to be clear to the media, to the public, that I came to the House and asked the speaker to allow time for the Bill to be taken at a later date,” Holness explained.
 
He said that it was clear to him that his side was confident that it had followed the Standing Orders (rules) of the House, as well as good practice.
 
“We came here to ask that debate on the Bill be put off, so that members could have time.
 
The Opposition insisted that the Bill be taken now…It puzzled me as to why they would be insisting on taking the Bill now. You rightfully, Mr Speaker, asked for time and during that time outside we went through the amendments [from the Senate].
 
“We looked at the amendments. They could have used the time to look at the amendments as well. What I will now do is, having the clerk read through the amendments that have been brought here, and having gone through them, and the members here have found them consistent and satisfactory…that we do what the Opposition has asked, and that we seek concurrence on these amendments, now,” he said.
 
The speaker granted leave to continue with the process, and the Prime Minister, eventually, moved for approval of the amendments, after discussing clauses 20 and 41 of the Bill, which, he said, had given most concern to the public.

A National Identification System (NIDS) is intended to provide a comprehensive and secure structure to enable the capture and storage of identity information for all Jamaicans.

Each citizen will be provided with a randomised nine-digit National Identification Number (NIN), which they will have for life.

Prime Minister Holness, in his remarks before the passage of the Bill, sought to allay concerns regarding the enrolment of persons and the penalties for those who do not comply.

He noted that there is a maximum fine of $100,000, “but the judge can use their discretion, and I am expecting that the judge would. We have removed the option of imprisonment, totally removed it,” he said.

He also cited Clause 41, which requires citizens to present their national identification (ID) number/card in order to receive goods or services from any public body.

Mr. Holness argued that currently, persons have to present an ID to get any service from the Government.

“But we have made sure to write in a protection in the event of health or something that is life-threatening or a natural disaster or a national emergency. Then, the system of presenting a national identification card would be suspended. So, we are not here trying to deprive the citizens of Jamaica of their rights,” he pointed out.

“We cannot continue to look at the Jamaican State as the enemy of the people. I am not the enemy of the people, and it is time that we reject that idea. Yes, there must be strong voices to ensure that Government does not go astray, but we cannot start on the assumption that when we stand here to pass legislation we are passing legislation to deprive people of rights,” the Prime Minister added.

The layered roll-out and management of the NIDS will be handled by a new agency, the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA), which will replace the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) and provide more enhanced services.

Roll-out of NIDS is slated to begin with a pilot project in January 2019, focusing on civil servants.

  • Countries: Jamaica