NIB and e-government central to recovery 

Dear Editor,

In the last decades of the 20th century, the government of The Bahamas, irrespective of administration, made a firm commitment to e-government and e-commerce. An IDB loan was left in place to advance e-government.

The National Insurance Board (NIB) was seen as one of the key center points to e-government.

Every working Bahamian must have an NIB number, whether working for her/himself or someone else.

I recall that an NIB number was a prerequisite to being able to register for the online incorporation feature at the Registrar General’s Department (RGD).

I also recall numerous discussions with the IT department at NIB about compliance confirmation with RGD and NIB’s key role in e-government. These discussions were important because the chip on everyone’s NIB card would be that person’s key to communication with and access across government platforms.

The chip identifies the holder of the card. I recall discussions with the NIB IT department where the vision was enunciated for the NIB card to reveal whether the cardholder is NIB compliant; link to road traffic; link with RGD; link to Passport Office; link to courts for payment and receipt court ordered family support payments; ability to access the payment online options at Bank of The Bahamas (BOB); etc.

I say this to emphasize that I know that these plans were in place and the framework and secure platform also substantially, if not fully, put in place.

I was dismayed this week to see online a spat between two cash transfer businesses on whether one or other would accept GOB vouchers for $100 issued for Bimini residents about to experience 14 days of lockdown.

This could have been avoided if GOB simply transferred $100 to the NIB card of each Bimini resident entitled to receive the same.

The NIB card could then be used by the resident to purchase goods and services from anywhere in the same way as if it were a debit card. As per the plans left in place, the fee for any use of the NIB card in this manner would have been paid by NIB to BOB.

After seeing four to six hour food store lines, I wrote weeks ago urging that NIB and other GOB benefits should be transferred to the NIB card.

This would enable the NIB card to be used as a debit card to acquire goods and services.

Using the NIB card in this way, elderly people could have goods delivered, rather than standing in line to buy goods.

NIB has since announced that NIB benefits could be collected at a named cash transfer business.

I support healthy competition. It would, however, be interesting to know how NIB registrant privacy is being protected when NIB assigns this role to a third party; the fee to be paid for the service and who pays the fee.

As to Bimini, if the NIB card was operational in 2020, GOB would simply have transferred $100 to the card of each person entitled to receive $100.

No person would have been sent from pillar to post. No person would be caught up in a spat between cash transfer businesses.

Every person equipped with the loaded card would be able to either walk into the food store to get groceries or order groceries online. No standing in line. Full value of the $100.

Online business and e-government around the world will grow from strength to strength in the 21st century.

COVID19 showed us that we could pivot, and move forward in new ways overnight.

Remote areas of Kenya and India for many years have been using the “bubbler” style phones to buy goods and services. If they can do it, so can we. After all, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) around 2014 acknowledged that The Bahamas has more capacity to connect to the internet than other countries in the region.

Within our grasp is the possibility of conducting all transactions with government online.

The framework and secure platform were in place and almost complete to upload a car inspection certificate from an authorized agent together with an insurance certificate to get our car licensed; to upload a current photograph to get a passport renewed; to upload a birth certificate and confirmation of nationality of parents to get a passport issued; to upload the most recent conveyance for the value of property upon which real property tax could be assessed; hospitals to send in birth details for birth certificates to be issued; morticians and marriage offices to send in relevant details for death and marriage certificates to be issued; and so forth.

Imagine all government buildings, schools, and public spaces providing free Wi-Fi so that we are all connected to each other and the world.

For the benefit of all residents of The Bahamas, and to support COVID19 recovery, I am hopeful that GOB will utilize and complete what was left in place, together with the NIB card to fulfill the grand purposes for which it was designed.

Allyson Maynard-Gibson

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