Wednesday 11 December, 2019

$300 million PR budget for NIDS

Some J$300 million (US$2.4 million) has been budgeted to undertake the public relations, communications and behaviour-change programme of the Government’s National Identification System (NIDS).

This was revealed by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in Parliament on Tuesday. It works out to J$60 million per year or $5 million per month over the five years that the programme will be implemented. The money is part of the US$68 million (J$9 billion) loan that the Government negotiated with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in 2017 to fund the NIDS.

Holness told the House of Representatives that 20 per cent of the $9 billion loan will go towards the acquisition of the software that is required to deliver identity management services.

He noted that most of the funds will go towards the broader modernisation and digitisation of Government, including an upgrade of the ICT infrastructure.

"In other words, it's one thing to give everyone a national ID that allows digital manoeuvrability, but you also have to prepare the national system to utilise the ID," Holness said.

He also told the House that between June and December last year, US$42,614 (J$5.45 million) was spent for radio, television and print advertising for the project.

The prime minister was responding to questions from the Opposition Spokesman on Technology and Member of Parliament for South East St Andrew, Julian Robinson.

Robinson wanted to know whether any outside entity had been contracted by the NIDS team to assist with the public relations activities and at what cost. However, Holness insisted that all the work was done internally, based on his brief.

Member of Parliament for Western Westmoreland, Dr Wykeham McNeill, questioned whether the level of public relations activity undertaken by the NIDS team in the latter half of 2018 amounted to less than $6 million. He pointed to full page newspaper advertisements as well as numerous television slots, suggesting that the PR campaign had to cost more.

"It speaks to the level of efficiency and frugality," Holness responded.

 "The team knows and understands that US$68 million is not something to joke around with. Every single dollar of expenditure must meet the highest standard of accountability and probity," he stated.

The prime minister said he has given clear directives on how the budget should be used.

Opposition Senator Lambert Brown recently blasted the Government for continuing to run advertisements about the NIDS since the Constitutional Court has reserved its decision on whether aspects of the controversial legislation that was passed in 2017,  are unconstitutional. That court challenge was brought by Robinson on behalf of the People’s National Party. Chief Justice Bryan Sykes who headed the three-member panel that heard the case has said the decision could be handed down by April.

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