PM plugs NIDS while highlighting COVID-19 measures for small businesses

Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the government’s approach to cushioning small businesses and others from the financial blows that could result from the coronavirus, highlights the need for the National Identification System (NIDS).

Holness made the plug for the controversial legislation while speaking at a digital townhall on Thursday (March 26) on measures the government would be undertaking to assist small businesses and workers in the informal economy.

Finance Minister Nigel Clarke, who also spoke at the town hall, noted that the government would be providing cash assistance to those in the informal economy, which includes craft and market vendors, barbers, hairdressers and taxi-men among others. Clarke revealed that for this specific segment of society, money has been set aside, through reallocations of expenditure, to help them deal with the economic fallout from the coronavirus.

Finance Minister Nigel Clarke.

According to Holness, while it is a remarkable achievement for Jamaica to be in a position to have a fiscal cushion for the crisis—particularly the country’s ability to provide assistance to workers—the measures being undertaken may not reach everybody.

He said that while the measures being implemented by the finance minister are sound, they may not capture everybody as there are gaps in the implementation, as well as, the system. “In between the aspirations and what we can actually deliver, there is a gap. There is a gap of implementation, and there is a gap of systems. We presently, cannot identify every single Jamaican. So beneficiary identification systems are not as strong as they should be, or could be,” said Holness.

“And what we are learning in crisis is that we need to be able to identify all Jamaicans—very important. Of course, this is a plug obviously for the need for the National Identification System, without getting into the murky political waters around it. This is the real test of the society,” added Holness, who noted that there is no way to know if those in need will actually benefit from the programmes being put in place.

Holness stressed that he was willing to help those in the informal economy on the condition that they become formalized. “If they become formalised during the process, as the minister of finance said, we are opening the door for them. But if they are not, then it is going to be very difficult to take up taxpayers resources, which are formalized in the system, and prioritize those who are not formally in the system,” said Holness, as he drove home the point about those in the informal economy. 

The PM also used the occasion to encourage Jamaicans to change their perspective on the government. “Why should we hide from the government? We should not hide from the government because in a time of crisis you will need to have the government’s support,” said Holness. “The government is not your enemy—this is not Babylon—we are here to help, and we want to know every single Jamaican.”

The NIDS was ruled unconstitutional and struck down in a ruling by the Constitutional Court last year.