Speech by the Prime Minister

Remarks on NIDS – Prime Minister Andrew Holness

The Sitting of the House of Representatives


September 29,2020

Well, since the leader of opposition business has raised this matter of the standing order, I have committed to this House and I’ve given direction to the members of the government side that our actions must be dignified, they must be integrous and we must be efficient.

In the debate that ensued regarding the question allowed to be posed by the opposition member and thee right of every member to ask a question, I urge members to consider when do we reach the limit of the individual right of each member versus the right of the citizens of this country to see their business effectively dealt with. Should the right of the individual member outweigh the right of the parliament to conclude its business in the interest of the people of this country? When Madam Speaker, will the members of this House place the national interest above the individual interest?

Madam Speaker, though I did not ask for the protection I welcome it. Having been in this parliament, not as long as most or many who have been here for five terms or more and some members eight and ten, we’ve grown accustomed to sometimes ignore what should be considered elevated behaviour and this house had to start to be the example of that higher level of behaviour for the society. The point that I was making Madam Speaker, if it were drowned out in the chorus of the opposition, is that we must always respect the right of the individual member to speak but that right must also contend with the right of the entire house to complete the business of the people. It could be a case where one member in the exercise of his or her individual right prevents the House from completing the business of the nation- I’m not saying that it was the intention and I’m saying that the speaker in that event has to exercise a judgement and there has to be a point where the opposition will and should respect the exercise of the judgement of the speaker in ensuring that the entire house completes its business; the standing order places that responsibility in our hands, a point made and uncontested.

Madam Speaker, the Leader of Opposition business asked for copies of my statement to be circulated, it is indeed a part of the convention, not a part of the standing order but a convention which has been practices for years and for good reasons, I’ve only breached that convention once when we are doing the various gazettes under the Disaster Risk Management.

Madam Speaker, according to the World Bank the massive shock of the corona virus pandemic and the associated containment measures have severely contracted the global economy the worst since World War II.  Madam Speaker, industries have been disrupted and businesses that require face to face interaction are struggling to keep afloat, the traditional way of doing commerce has proven to be a herculean task during this pandemic.

Madam Speaker, as I move about the country, I’ve observed the long lines at the tax offices, at the banks, and other public and private institutions. This signals urgent need for more services to be made available online and our people must be sensitized to the importance of accessing these services online.

This administration has always recognized that the transition to a digital society is a crucial requisite to the realization to Jamaica’s growth and development ambitions. The COVID- 19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of digital technologies globally and our recovery from the pandemic is critically dependent on how quickly we reengineer, reconfigure and reorganize our society and our businesses and this applies to all areas in the private sector and in the public sector.

We were discussing Madam Speaker, education and the minister of education pointed out that she will make available some 40,000 tablets to students who are registered on the PATH Programme but another 36,000 will be distributed to persons who are not on the PATH Programmes.

This poses a logistics and administrative challenge because in the distribution of these benefits you could have duplications, you could have families trying to get twice, children getting twice; how do we avoid this and how do we account or this because it would be the same parliament that will be asking the minister education to account for these tablets and why is it that one family has four or five tablets and another family down the road has none?

Madam Speaker, this places squarely in front of us the need to be able to properly identify our citizens. This is the root of our thrust for national identification. It is to improve the ability of the state to allocate and distribute resources effectively to those who need it. It is to improve the ability of the state serve its citizens, no other reason.

When i was minister of education Madam Speaker, i started a programme in the ministry of education called the National Students Registry, there was some opposition to it when it began but the national student registry ensured that each child registering in the public education system received a unique identifying number. It is that unique number which ensured that the ministry of education was able to order the exact number of books it needed plus a provision for damaged or loss; that saved the ministry at the time half  billion dollars in ordering because what used to happen before is that not knowing the exact number of students in the school system they had to use other methods of ordering books and there used to be piles and piles of books in the school book room because sometimes the schools would be sending back books because we just didn’t know but that is an example of how setting up a national registry of your citizens helps to improve service.

Now, that national student registry, it is now going to be used to ensure that we know who is logged unto the learning management system and it is also going to be used to determine which student would have already gotten a benefit whether or not they got a tablet or they got a voucher so that we can be confident when we declare that global sum that we have given out that there is a high degree of certainty that those benefits are going to distinguishable individuals.

As policy makers we must ensure that we put in place the legislation necessary to ensure the our citizens can receive the highest level of service from the state and one way to do this is to ensure that we pass legislation for the National Identification System.

The leader for the opposition in the last campaign spoke often about the digital divide. This is a term with growing relevance to Jamaica particularly because of the pandemic. In order for us to have a national identification system we need to cross two hurdles. The first is yes, the digital divide. The pandemic has forced schools and workplaces to close and people to practice social distance and so the internet has become now the public square where people meet to exchange and to access information but Madam Speaker, half the world is not connected or has access to the internet. In Jamaica, we estimate that about 45% of Jamaicans are not connected to the internet. Some have devices but they don’t have the data plan that puts them on the internet. Some have no devices whatsoever. Some have devices and choose not to connect so you can see that the pandemic will have a massive effect on how the society develops, how the society accesses information if it is the case that 45% of Jamaicans don’t have consistent and reliable access to the internet. Yes, there are other ways, they’ll listen to the radio, they’ll watch tv.

Madam Speaker, you and I know that the quality of information that you get and the ability to interrogate and the ability to have responsiveness over the internet you don’t necessarily get that with radio or tv so Madam Speaker, there is no question that the government has to make a significant investment in ensuring that Jamaicans are connected. The member from South East St Andrew asked the question, so where are we with connecting the schools and the hospitals and the police stations and the courthouses?

Well, I will come to this court with a separate statement because the NWA is doing significant work in building out the public infrastructure as it relates to broadband and has indeed connected since the pandemic several schools and a few months ago we gave a directive for them to connect several of our traffic courts so that we would be able to deal with the traffic offences and that work members continues apace.

You would have also heard that the minister of education announced that we’re putting in with partnership of a private sector entity, Ready TV, I believe it is satellite connectivity which would bring access to communities where it would be physically difficult at the moment to lay fibre optic cables so the government is expanding the broadband network and we are bringing on on a monthly basis new entities but I would agree with the member from South East St Andrew in the sentiment that it is not happening fast enough and what is need is a radical revolutionary approach to bringing broadband connectivity to every Jamaican household.

The minister of science, energy and technology will come to the House with an update as to where we are in building out what we call the national broadband network. We’re now at the phase of getting the  consultants to help us to devise that programme and I would encourage you as soon as you can minister to bring the House UpToDate as to where we are with that.

Madam Speaker, it’s not just the complaints you we receive about dropped calls and the poor service and when you’re having to have meetings on the various platforms the difficulty  in connecting and it is so frustrating to Jamaicans because Jamaicans are beginning to utilize the services of the internet much more these days and it is a very frustrating experience when you cannot have reliable broadband. Government understands that broadband is almost like a roadway, it’s a highway. It is the highway on which information flows and so the government has a duty, almost a public good duty to ensure that there is this first world first class future proof highway for information in Jamaica and we’re going to ensure that that highway is built out and that Jamaica has first world broadband access to ensure that we can participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution not as observers but as creators of technology using the internet.

Madam Speaker, the second hurdle that we have to cross is in terms of setting up our national ID is to have the infrastructure to be able to assign the unique ID but to be able as well to unambiguously authenticate the ID that is given so assigning a unique ID is just one element of it but if i were to assign the leader of opposition his unique ID and he went to the bank to present it they would look at the card and they would look at the elder of the opposition, they would just ask him to take down his mask a little bit so that they could match picture to the ID but that is the old way of authenticating an ID. Now, you have to put in place a whole new infrastructure that gives you a higher level of security and certainty that when someone comes to you with an ID even if it is a picture ID that you are able to verify that the person presenting the ID even if they have a close resemblance on the ID presented that they match. I’m certain that those of you who went to  vote and you looked at your ID which some of you would have taken several years ago versus what you look like now, there might be a little struggle in verifying the ID.

With this system Madam Speaker, we will be using the fingerprint credentials, the photo credentials to establish someone’s identity but more than that there will be an interconnected network, a system where persons can log on, put in the card number and they would get access to some information and from that you could verify the persons identity. There will be other opportunities to verify the ID so there will be certain devices that you could give your fingerprint and it would match according to what is on the ID and that would verify so the system Madam Speaker, gives a higher level of verification of identity.

Now, once you’re at this level of higher verification of identity, what that does is to reduce transaction cost. If you consider now madam speaker that banks have to employ significant resources to verify who you say you are, our present legal system around setting up bank accounts have extensive Know Your Customer requirements. With a national ID which is unique and verifiable, those requirements would not be an onerous and it would facilitate transactions and reduce the cost of transactions thereby making it easier to do business in Jamaica.

In all of this we have to always have in the forefront of our minds the privacy of the individual and Madam Speaker, this administration is very proud that we have passed the Data Protection bill so we now have an environment that will legally protect an legally bind the state to protect the information and indeed the identity of each Jamaican.

Madam Speaker, other countries in the Caribbean have started to see the light in this regard and they are moving ahead with their own legislation. I would not like it to be said that Jamaica which started on this path in 2009 would be among the last to have completed this because regardless of the opinions and the debate and the concerns expressed I think we all have to come to the understanding that it is the way of the future; this is how the  world is going to be organized and Jamaica cannot, should not, must not be once again left behind when the world is going through its development revolutions.

This is why this administration is moving with speed and alacrity to establish the National Identification System by implementing a voluntary system to manage the lifecycles of citizens and residents digital identities; the NIDS will address two significant challenges that we currently face, how to verify and authenticate users digitally and securely and how to sign documents digitally. The NIDS will create economic value for both individuals and institutions.

For individuals it will enable increased use of financial services, improved access to employment and time and cost savings. For institutions in both government and the private sector, it will provide cost savings, reduce fraud, increase sales of goods and services and improve labour productivity. For the country as a whole NIDS will create economic value by enabling greater formalization of economic flows, promoting higher inclusion of individuals in a range of services and allowing incremental digitization of sensitive interactions that require high levels of trust.

McKinsey Global Institute estimates that countries implementing digital ID programs could unlock economic value of up to 13 percent of GDP by 2030; making it a potential force for inclusive growth.

Digital ID can also unlock noneconomic value, potentially furthering progress in areas such as protection of rights, and transparency. Digital ID can promote increased and more inclusive access to education, healthcare, and labour markets; and can contribute to greater levels of civic participation

And I don’t want to stress this point but for example, Madam Speaker, but in Estonia, a country that is about half the population of Jamaica and about similar size, 30% of the individuals of that country vote online. Now, we are nowhere near online voting but I’m pointing out to you Madam Speaker, that things that we now think are impossible or unachievable these things are happening and have been happening for years elsewhere.

Digital ID can also help enforce but Madam Speaker, an important point in that statistics is that according to the survey that estimated 30% of individuals in Estonia vote online. 20% of them indicated that if they had to vote physically, they would not so it does increase participation.

Digital ID can also help enforce rights enshrined in law. For example, in India, the right of residents to claim subsidised food through ration shops is protected because their claim and identity are authenticated through a remote digital ID system, rather than at the discretion of local officials. And the case of India and South Africa as a case study as to how putting in  system of national identification actually expands rights because in India the subsidy that the poor would get, it had to rely on identification because the subsidy was not unlimited and if you didn’t have a beneficiary identification system anyone could come and claim but by putting in place as India did their Aadhaar system which their national identification system, you would now be properly able to identify who are the poor and only they could go and claim the benefits so what you have done is to ensure that persons who are poor who are properly identified can be guaranteed the benefit because as the state you would now know how much to budget for and who exactly will get it so the implementation of a national ID expands right, it doesn’t take away rights. It expands rights and deepens it and allows the state to be able to fulfil the needs of its citizens.

Madam Speaker, I want to update this Honourable House on advances being made towards getting Jamaica ready for the adoption of full digital services.

In November 2019, I announced that Cabinet’s approval of the first amendment to the contract for the NIDS solution to focus on the ICT upgrade activities until a new National Identification and Registration Bill is tabled.

Madam Speaker, in April of this year, a significant landmark was achieved when Cabinet approved the new voluntary National Identification and Registration Policy. Substantial changes, as reflected in the new Policy, include the voluntary enrolment under the NIDS and the use of minimum biometrics which are fingerprints, a facial image and manual signature only.

The new National Identification and Registration Bill, Madam Speaker, is completed, and the NIDS Policy Committee, along with the Legislation Committee which is a Sub-Committee of Cabinet which that committee goes through the Bills and makes the recommendation for final approval to Cabinet, the Bill is now being reviewed.

Madam Speaker, the Government is fully cognizant of and sensitive to the legitimate concerns that persons have regarding data protection and privacy.

We are committed to putting in place the legislative, technological, and independent oversight mechanisms to ensure that the rights of persons are respected and protected.

This Government intends to embrace a collaborative approach through the traditional process of getting the legislation passed. The Government will also provide an online forum on NIDSFACTS.COM for all Jamaicans to comment on the Bill.

Let me say just to be clear that we intend to have the BILL through the legislative committee before the end of October. The Bill will come back to this House and out of an abundance of caution I can state here that it will go to a joint select committee so that there is no opportunity for unnecessary delays and that if there are issues that arise in the traditional way we deal with it in the committee and the public can have their say. I don’t want to determine the parliamentary process but one would expect that the process is not unlimited, there must be some bound to it and therefore we would like before the end of this year that we should be seeking to pass the Bill into law.

Madam Speaker, once the Bill is tabled in Parliament, as i said a Joint Select Committee to navigate it through the parliament and we hope that the deliberations will proceed apace.

Madam Speaker, in January 2020, under Phase 1 of the ICT infrastructure upgrade activities, the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) Project was launched.

The PKI is a trusted security framework used worldwide to manage the policies concerning the creation, distribution, use, storage and revocation of digital certificates that are critical to security in a digital society.

Madam Speaker, this sounds complexed but what this is saying Madam Speaker, is that we are moving ahead with ensuring that when the legislation is passed we can actually realize the NIDS because we have put in place the structures necessary to have the NIDS actualized. In other words as we said earlier that a part of the NIDS is the function of authenticating identity then the process by which that is done which includes having the networks to do it, the software to encrypt and decrypt and the user interface to be able to plug in information and get a response, all of that is now being done under what is being called the Public Key Infrastructure.

This project is scheduled to be completed in this calendar year, paving the way for the introduction of things like e-passports and digital identities.

The NIDS Project has been upgrading the Government’s data centre, the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) and investing, in part, in the development of processes and requirements for the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) to implement e-passport. These upgrades include servers, firewalls, switches, load balancing and the general enhancing of power and cooling infrastructure. So, whilst we have been doing the legislative work and the policy work, we’re also building out the infrastructure. When all of these things come together; infrastructure, legislation and policy then you have a National Identification System that can work.

We have streamlined and organized our activities instead of doing them sequentially we have work simultaneously on all paths so that by the end of the year/ early next year we should be able to start to execution and implementation of our National Identification System.

Madam Speaker, work is ongoing to improve the RGD’s operations, thereby improving the overall delivery of services to customers.

The development of a new Electronic Birth Certificate solution is a major initiative being funded by the NIDS Project at the RGD. The project has already commenced, with a pilot project soon to be rolled out.

Madam Speaker, I am happy to report that, upon completion, Jamaicans will have the opportunity to request, print and verify their birth

certificates without face-to-face interactions, from anywhere in the world. Secure online verification and authentication of birth certificates will be key features of the process.

The digitisation of records, Madam Speaker, is another significant component that will substantially improve the RGD’s operations. Once completed, it will allow the agency to be more responsive. To date, the RGD has benefitted from over J$25M invested in the procurement of new hardware and software infrastructure, including improvements in power distribution.

Madam Speaker, with more persons using mobile devices to conduct transactions, the Government has put in place a plan to roll out an application to facilitate easy payments and retrieval of signed documents. This can be best described as a One-Stop Single Digital Wallet or e-Wallet.

Upon completion, Madam Speaker, Jamaicans will be able to use the e-Wallet to authenticate themselves, pay for various services and retrieve stored signed documents whenever they choose to.

Madam Speaker, this e-Wallet also has the potential to facilitate a public transaction platform that could help the speeding up of commerce and increase financial inclusion of the ordinary Jamaicans and we are moving ahead to have that concept built out so that you will be able with of course the approval of the Bank of Jamaica and the Ministry of Finance, to be able to conduct transactions from your phone. As they do in many countries, in Japan last year and most transactions people go with their telephone and they have the various devices, nobody carries a wallet or a credit card anymore and that’s because they have that facility of conducting electronic transactions on their phones and we’re now building out the potential to do it under the NIDS well.

Madam Speaker, as we advance into the digital revolution, we must not be afraid to take bold steps and embrace the future. We are developing the framework and human capacity for innovations in the creation and adoption of secure and safe digital space. The Government remains steadfast in transforming our country into a digital economy and a digital society. We will in short time Madam Speaker, bridge the digital divide.

I thank you.