ECJ Commission to form NIDS Inspectorate

The joint select committee (JSC) of Parliament examining the revised National Identification and Registration (NIDS) Bill has agreed on the eight members of the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) forming the oversight National Databases Inspectorate (NDI) for the proposed national identification system.

The NDI will be a body corporate which will, among other things, monitor compliance with the Act as well as the performance of the proposed National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

It will conduct periodic inspections of its operations and give the board directions and advice “as may be appropriate to ensure identity information collected by the authority and stored in the national identification database is subject to the highest practicable levels of security and confidentiality”.

The current ECJ comprises three non-partisan selected members – ECJ Chairman Earl Jarrett, who is also deputy chairman and chief executive officer of Jamaica National Group; retired Court of Appeal judge, Justice Karl Harrison, who resigned from the Integrity Commission in 2019; and former Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

There are four nominated members in: attorney-at-law, Senator Thomas Tavares Finson who is also president of the Senate and Dr Aundre Franklin, both from the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP); former Senator Wensworth Skeffery; and former MP and current embattled general secretary of the People’s National Party (PNP), Dr Dayton Campbell.

The eighth member of the team is Director of Elections Glasspole Brown, who will be in charge of the day-to-day activities of the inspectorate, if the National Identification and Registration Act, which is being reviewed by the JSC, is approved and implemented by Parliament.

Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck, who chairs the JSC, informed Thursday’s meeting of the committee at Gordon House that, following a meeting between the NIDS team and ECJ representatives on Wednesday, it was agreed that all eight ECJ commissioners be drafted to form the inspectorate, including the director of elections.

He said that initially consideration was given to sticking with four non-political appointees, and omitting the four nominated commissioners. However, he explained that in discussions with Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, as well as other JSC members including Government Senator Aubyn Hill, “it was felt that it is about time we stop de-legitimising our political representatives”.

“This could be a very important way forward because this inspectorate will be reporting as a commission of Parliament. It is very important that we keep them [together] as a body, as the chairman of the ECJ reiterated they can operate as a body to report as a commission of Parliament, and report directly to the Parliament itself,” Chuck said.

He noted that the main consideration now is that certain administrative details would have to be worked out in terms of how the inspectorate operates as an oversight body of the NIRA.

“But it seemed to me from the very inception that the ECJ was always seen as the one to be involved with the national identification system, and they are eager to participate,” Chuck added.

The NIDS team’s legal specialist, Camika Facey told the meeting that, essentially, the ECJ will constitute and carry out the functions of the inspectorate effectively as a function of the commission under the NIRA legislation.

She said that the operational functions would be carried out in the same way as they are now carried out within the ECJ. She also noted that the ECJ is supported by the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ), which is headed by the director of elections.

But Facey suggested that there is a need for the benefits of following this policy to be communicated to the public so that any perception that the roles and functions of the inspectorate are, in fact, different from the role and functions of the ECJ, despite the same persons carrying them out, can be addressed.

The NIDS Bill is aimed at providing a legal framework for a National Identification System that is expected to provide safe, reliable and robust verification and authentication of identity information for citizens of Jamaica and persons ordinarily resident in Jamaica, thereby allowing for the strengthening of identity security, cyber security and simplification of bureaucracy.

The current Bill was tabled by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the House of Representatives in December 2020. This followed the Supreme Court ruling in April 2019 striking down certain aspects of the Bill, including its mandatory nature.

The current Bill requires voluntary enrolment.

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