Don’t waste mil­lions on new na­tional ID

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -


OUR PRIME min­is­ter re­cently proudly an­nounced that our much-an­tic­i­pated na­tional ID sys­tem will be­gin roll­out in 2018, boast­ing cra­dle-to-grave bio­met­ric in­dexes and a price tag some­where in ex­cess of US$5 mil­lion. What an as­tro­nom­i­cal waste of re­sources!

Don’t get me wrong: I am sure this sys­tem is a bril­liant wish list of won­der­ful nice-to-haves, and we would un­doubt­edly be cat­a­pulted to the front of the line of na­tional IDs. In fact, our larger and much wealth­ier neigh­bours to the north – Canada and the United States – do not have such a sys­tem, though they seem to do rea­son­ably well with­out it.

But do we need it? And, more im­por­tant, can we af­ford it? It seems an os­ten­ta­tious waste when you con­sider that Ja­maica is a coun­try of just three mil­lion peo­ple, where ‘every­body know every­body’ and ‘we bruk like a church mouse’. But do we need a sys­tem? Yes! Un­re­servedly! But do we need to spend such a vast sum? That’s where I am in dis­agree­ment.

The tax reg­is­tra­tion num­ber (TRN) is, whether we like it or not, Ja­maica’s de facto na­tional ID. We need it to do busi­ness with the Govern­ment or to con­duct any for­mal trans­ac­tion on the is­land. Where is it not re­quired? When reg­is­ter­ing deaths, mar­riages or when enu­mer­at­ing for vot­ing. All this can be fixed with leg­is­la­tion and would have to be done for any pro­posed na­tional ID.

The TRN has al­ready achieved an ex­tremely high de­gree of per­va­sive­ness. The fact that it is re­quired ev­ery­where cre­ates a high de­gree of ref­er­en­tial in­tegrity, some­thing essen­tial for any na­tional ID to be truly suc­cess­ful. And while it does not re­quire a bio­met­ric at time of is­sue, it is the ref­er­ence num­ber on our driver’s li­cence, thus es­tab­lish­ing it as a bio­met­ric in­dexed ID.


Why not sim­ply build out a mod­i­fi­ca­tion to our driver’s li­cence sys­tem and have the same equip­ment gen­er­ate na­tional iden­ti­fi­ca­tions. And for those al­ready reg­is­tered in the data­base with driver’s li­cences, gen­er­ate the na­tional IDs for them from the same data­base.

A na­tional ID, with min­i­mal dis­lo­ca­tion to the sta­tus quo, im­me­di­ately ac­ti­vated, could give us ba­sis to re­move dead peo­ple from the vot­ers’ list, up­date pen­sions with­out life cer­tifi­cates (sav­ing mil­lions of dol­lars), and avoid a US$5-mil­lion price tag.

Why then push to spend this money rather than im­prov­ing on what we al­ready have? Think of the trans­for­ma­tional dif­fer­ence that US$500m (J$640m) could make to our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, the heart to our eco­nomic growth, as this is where the ca­pac­ity of our hu­man cap­i­tal is ex­panded and de­vel­oped.

Mr Prime Min­is­ter, ap­point­ing eco­nomic czars, eco­nomic growth coun­cils and re­nam­ing min­istries so they have eco­nomic growth tagged on some­where is not the an­swer. Putting re­sources to work ef­fec­tively and ef­fi­ciently is the key to pulling Ja­maica out of its eco­nomic malaise. PAUL DUN­CAN pdun­

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