Tue | Mar 2, 2021

FREE FROM POLITICS - Robinson wants NIDS authority to be a parliamentary commission

Published:Wednesday | January 6, 2021 | 12:22 AMEdmond Campbell/Senior Parliamentary Reporter
Julian Robinson.
Julian Robinson.

Julian Robinson, a member of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament examining the National Identification and Registration Act, 2020, has recommended that the proposed National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) should be established as a commission of parliament.

The NIRA will be a statutory body with responsibility for civil registration and the enrolment of persons under the proposed NIDS law, as well as the collection of data as prescribed by the statute.

The NIRA will also provide reports on its activities to the responsible minister.

Given the data and information the NIRA will have on Jamaicans who sign up for the NIDS, Robinson is pushing for the agency to be given greater independence by crafting into law that it reports to Parliament.

At its second meeting in Gordon House yesterday, Robinson contended that the person appointed to head NIRA should not be subjected to day-to-day instructions from the portfolio minister.

“This would be a body like no other this country would have seen. It would have information on every single individual who chooses to participate in NIDS, but so critical and important that it should have a level of independence from the political directorate, and I think that this should be considered in our deliberations,” he insisted.

Robinson, who successfully challenged the constitutionality of the first NIDS law, said that while there might be the assumption that persons in the political directorate would act in the best interest of the country, that might not always be the case. Hence his suggestion that the NIRA should be insulated from the “vagaries” of politics.

As part of the institutional framework, an independent oversight body will be mandated to monitor NIRA’s compliance with the NIDS law as well as the Data Protection law when enacted.

This inspectorate will also be empowered to take action independently or bring to the attention of the appropriate regulatory or disciplinary body any breaches of the law by NIRA.

Meanwhile, Shereika Hemmings-Alison, principal director in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), said that the NIDS would help to reduce incidents of identity theft and financial crimes in Jamaica.

She told the committee that the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) reported that 22,499 passport fraud cases had been detected and prosecuted between 2009 and 2019.

The Registrar General’s Department reported that 1,072 cases of forged birth certificates were detected by the agency between 2010 and 2018.

“So we see that identity theft is a real risk and so the system has been designed to ensure that that risk is mitigated,” Hemmings-Alison said.

She told committee members that the NIDS will strengthen identity and cybersecurity and simplify bureaucracy.

Vernon said one benefit of the NIDS is that it would make redundant the proof of life certificate now required for the processing of pension payments.

Warren Vernon, the head of NIDS at the OPM, said that the proposed national identification card would allow a person to sign a document using digital signature enabled by the Electronic Transactions Act.

“You will be able to authenticate, meaning financial institutions, government entities can now provide secure authentication using that tool – the card – to sign in securely to these services,” he pointed out.

In an effort to reach a wide cross section of Jamaicans, the committee plans to host six virtual town hall meetings to allow members of the public to ask questions on the NIDS.

Chairman Delroy Chuck said that the committee will team up with radio stations to allow journalists and listeners to interact with officials from the OPM on the proposed law.

At the same time, letters were sent to more than 100 organisations and groups inviting submissions on the bill.