Latest update March 20th, 2023 12:59 AM
Mar 14, 2023 News
– flags sole-sourcing of contractor, lack of public consultations, parliamentary oversight
Kaieteur News – The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) says the signing of an agreement to operationalise e-governance in Guyana, without the framework legislation covering Data Protection being in place, is reckless in the extreme.
The body said that given the haste, absence of public consultation and threats to the integrity of personal information, not to mention the seeming illegality of sole-sourcing the project, it is calling for the project to be paused and submitted to Parliament.
The Government of Guyana (GoG) on Friday signed a US$35 million contract with a German-based company, Veridos Identity Solutions for a Single Electronic Identification System and cards that will be issued to Guyanese. The official contract signing between the Government and Veridos, took place virtually from State House.
President Irfaan Ali as well as Prime Minister, Brigadier (Ret’d), Mark Phillips; Senior Minister within the Office of the President with responsibility for Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh and Minister within the Ministry of Public Works, Deodat Indar attended the signing ceremony. President Ali said that the Single Electronic Identification System being developed for Guyana will not only enhance the ease of transactions but will be one of the most technologically advanced. He said that too that the cards will be compliant with 18013-5 of the ISO standard and will be accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for international travel.
The collaboration was facilitated by United Arab Emirate, His Royal Highness, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. The new electronic identification system, the President explained, would revolutionise how business is done in Guyana and with its advanced security system it will eliminate the need for certain documents.
Ali said, “Through this card, the banking sector now can have fingerprint verification and validation of the person who’s before them. So, the need for proof of address and all the audit documentation is eliminated. The cost of doing business, the effectiveness, the competitiveness, the efficiency all improve as a result of this technology.”
Meanwhile, in a press statement Monday, the GHRA said Guyana is unique in the Caribbean at present in having no electronic transactions Act to displace time-consuming and stressful paper-based procedures, for example, in registering births and deaths, creating a bank account or registering a company. The body said for a number of years CARICOM countries have been holding serious consultations on Data and Privacy Protection legislation covering vital matters such as terms of consent, data sharing by Government agencies and the ‘right to be forgotten’, among others. (This right covers situations in which people may and may not request their information not to be publicized.) “All of this is sidelined by a Government dazzled by the prospect of “e-health, e-education, e-security, e-agriculture, electronic permits, and license processing, etcetera”.
According to the Tech Transactions & Data Privacy 2022 Report, published in the recent edition of The National Law Review “businesses are increasingly pivoting to digital service models that leverage the internet in place of in-person transactions.” Moving data across borders for processing off-shore is the essence of multi-national business. “This does not sit easily with Guyana’s love affair with pieces of paper accompanying every conceivable business transaction. For all of these reasons, Guyana needs to transition to an e-world, but to do so with circumspection,” the GHRA reasoned.
The body said however, the key democratic and ethical issues associated with adoption of such legislation is the misuse of data transferred internationally by countries and multinational companies. “The European Union, for example, recognizes only thirteen countries to which data may be transferred safely, the United States not being one of them. Apart, therefore, from the practical challenges involved in digitalization, there are also human rights concerns in relation to protection of personal and nationally sensitive data. Contrary to the caution required in this area Guyana’s transition from a state of electronic illiteracy to a digital world is being placed (and if sole-sourced, illegally) in the hands of foreign private companies, apparently orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates, tarnished by its illegal gold transactions.”
The GHRA said according to press reports, the technical suitability of the company and programme was determined by the National Data Management technicians, raising the question: why. In light of our digital backwardness to date, better informed expertise was not sought from experienced impartial sources. An equally critical issue is the systematic global under-estimating of costs of major Information and Communications Technology ICT) infra-structure projects and the likelihood of sky-rocketing prices down the road.
“Despite being the most common infra-structure projects, roads and bridges suffer globally from cost-benefit miscalculations in the region of an average of 40% on the former and 38.8% on the latter. This remains true both globally and over-time. However, they pale in comparison with cost-overruns on ‘one-off’ projects such as the Channel Tunnel, the Sydney Opera House and London Olympics which turned into financial nightmares. This is particularly pertinent in light of the fact that Guyana’s major infra-structure projects – the Amaila Hydro, the deep-sea gas pipeline and the gas plant – are all one-off with few references for comparison.”
‘Delusional optimism’ rather than a rational weighting of gains, losses, and probabilities has been suggested as a major cause of underestimation of cost and over-estimation of benefits. Over-estimates on ICT projects were so high, according to a leading authority on cost-benefit in infra-structure projects that “if a major project is not already messed up, injecting a good dose of ICT will do the job” he was told. Under-estimating costs and over-estimating benefits on the proposed project is also vulnerable to consultants taking advantage of Guyana’s incalculable oil wealth, our dilapidated system of public accounts and the haste to get the job done. In light of this, all Guyana Government personnel with responsibilities for Guyana’s large infra-structure and ICT projects would be advised to read the source document for reference, namely Bent Flyvberg, ‘Survival of the Unfittest: Why the Worst Infrastructure Gets Built – And What We Can Do About It’, Oxford Review of Economic Policy, December 2009. The most prudent course of action would be for Guyana to engage with CARICOM in an effort to ensure that this new project harmonizes with and benefits from the Parliamentary experience of CARICOM States such as Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica. Indeed, as a gesture of regionalizing Guyana’s new-found wealth Guyana’s Parliament should offer to fund a digitization process in CARICOM.
At the signing last week, President Ali said that the card’s capabilities are also in keeping with his Government’s commitment to promote eGovernance to improve the productivity of businesses and the delivery of Government services through the introduction of eHealth, eEducation, eSecurity, eAgriculture, electronic permit, and license processing among other areas.
He noted that the enhancement is necessary because there is an immediate need to implement a robust national identity management system that focuses on the integration of identification services across government agencies, security, ease of use, and acquisition of IDs.
The President added, “This ID system would improve access to all citizen-centric Government services and benefit the citizens, private sector and Government alike. This will bring us in line with solutions used by the most developed economies, and position Guyana to be a competitive sphere in a world that is advancing drastically along a technological landscape.”
The system, and the cards by extension, according to the President, will also allow for the issuance of work permits and resident identification. “E-ID systems promote the idea of one citizen, one identity by assigning a unique national registration number to each citizen for use by all Government agencies,” Ali noted.
The Head of State also noted that in addition to improving Government services, the system will also benefit the private sector. He continued, “So, the cost of doing business, the effectiveness, the competitiveness, the efficiency all improved as a result of this technology.” Moreover, President Ali also stated that the system will adhere to the highest level of international standards.
According to him, “The system allows the capture of individuals’ biographical and biometric information based on international standards and stores it to provide identity-based services to individuals and other Government offices. The ID and resident cards are laser engraved, black and white technology with secure, pre-printed designs and devices for a state-of-the-art polycarbonate document, which includes a chip that can integrate a variety of services to the individual.”
The President said the system and software will be tailored for Guyana and will include implementation services, training of administrators and operators, local help desk support and 60 months of support and maintenance. The project is expected to have a 12-month implementation period.
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