T&T citizens have six identifying numbers, time to collapse them into one

Most of us have six unique numbers with which we are identified. They are our Board of Inland Revenue and National Insurance Scheme numbers as well as those found on our birth certificate, identification card, driver’s permit and passport.

I posed two questions to my friends in the digital space: Is this desirable; and how difficult is it to collapse these into one?

Photo: Trinidad Newsday journalist Kalifa Clyne hands over her passport.
(Copyright Trinidad Newsday)

The unanimous response was multiple numbers is the most inefficient way of keeping track of citizens’ records. Based on a 2014 World Bank Report, 120 of 193 countries implemented a single unique identifier for each citizen from birth.

Imagine if we had such a system. The government would be able to identify the exact number of citizens under the poverty line and be able to provide the support they need in times like this Covid-19 pandemic. It would streamline the distribution of food cards to the needy and provide a history of distribution.

Minister Camille Robinson-Regis commented recently that her ministry will use local government bodies and community-based NGOs to find everyone who needs help. Had there been a system which accounts for each citizen, the Ministry of Social Development would have been able to rely on proper data to find everyone who needs help.

Having a unique identifier for each citizen should provide transparency since it minimises the ability to double dip, undetected, for benefits. Under the current system, we were told of the number of food cards distributed to MPs for their constituents and hopefully there is a system of authentication. But our new normal must be driven by hard data which will minimise the potential for people falling through the cracks.

On the challenge of collapsing those six numbers into one, my digital friends suggested that it is doable and not a very complex activity. They noted that other countries did this over a period of time with a seamless transition.

Photo: Minister Camille Robinson-Regis (centre) during a recycling exercise.

In 2009, the India government engaged in the biggest biometric ID programme in the world when it established the Unique Identification Authority of India to issue unique identification numbers to their citizens.

The sticking point here would be getting clean data from each of our ministries as well as dedication and the will to change the current bureaucratic structures. In other words, understanding the ecosystems within which the work is done and applying the necessary resources to mining the data.

Designing a system for 1.3 million users was equated with designing a system for McDonald’s, which employs 1.7 million persons across more than 100 countries. We need only the political will to move into the 21st century.

This Covid-19 pandemic and the social distancing required forced many companies to implement remote work strategies and prompted the government to hasten certain online transactions and move closer to implementing online education.

The changes made by this pandemic should be maintained with a view to moving Trinidad and Tobago into the digital space and strengthening our systems and processes. My Covid wish is for us to begin the process of collapsing those six unique numbers into one. It will be a giant step towards the modernisation of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Embracing technology.

If we go back to our archaic paper-based systems we would have lost the exciting opportunity which this crisis has given us.

Maybe there is an opportunity here to engage our digital gurus to design the new system as an online challenge.

T&T must emerge from pandemic as healthier, more tech savvy nation

April 7th marked the 55th month of Trinidad and Tobago being under the leadership of Prime Minister Dr Keith Christopher Rowley and no one could have predicted the current scenario.

Not in our wildest dreams did we contemplate that we’d be engaged in a daily tally of deaths versus confirmed cases of Covid-19. Yet here we are, confined to our homes with no KFC, doubles or ‘chinese’ food, as the virus continues slaying whomever it wishes.

Photo: Actor Darrell Hammond plays KFC founder Colonel Sanders.

In the midst of this, we have an opportunity to innovate and redesign our society for those who are left standing at the end of this pandemic.

Already, we are seeing the government leverage technology to change the way it delivers services to the citizenry. Almost overnight payments to citizens are being made by direct bank deposits, and citizens are being directed to online interactions.

It would be a terrible, mindless waste of time, effort and money if we abandoned our newly acquired skill set after this pandemic.

At this point we have a tremendous opportunity to change the game. With approximately 71% of our population using the internet, the country is in a good place to redesign our approach to work. Getting more people working from home would require that systems of accountability be baked into renewed work designs.

The removal of KFC and doubles from our list of ‘essential services’ is likely to directly improve our individual and collective health. There is no coincidence that the increase in non-communicable diseases came with the introduction of fast foods to our country some decades ago. We are all now forced to prepare our own meals and eat them in our homes.

An article on the Harvard Health Publishing website suggests that cooking at home leads to daily consumption of fewer calories, fats and sugar which can result in the reduction of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Photo: A child muses over a healthy meal.

There will be the genuine response by many that they do not know how to cook. This response will provide a unique opportunity to educate the community about preparing healthy, nutritious simple meals as well as suggesting a basket of goods.

This lock-down is an opportunity to re-fashion our collective palettes and re-learn healthy eating habits.

Professor Roger Hosein recently made a plug for backyard gardening and commented that if we are able to feed ourselves, we will reduce our need for foreign exchange, which is likely to become more scarce post-Covid-19.

Daily, Agricultural Economist Omardath Maharaj lights up social media pages with his pleadings for us to preserve food and nutrition security at the level of households.  Hopefully a positive fall out from Covid-19 will be taking a different approach to food self sufficiency and a move to ‘plant de land’ as the late Ras Shorty I urged.

Covid-19 has provided us with an opportunity to pause, reflect, hit the ‘reset button’ and move towards a different Trinidad and Tobago, where technology drives our approach to work and we turn inwards to find ways of feeding ourselves. We must stop being afraid of our stigmas regarding agriculture and other kinds of work we might consider to be menial.

Right now, cleaning and health staff are the ones on the front line, and we hail them as heroes. Why not farmers also?

Photo: Farmers on the Vision on a Mission programme.
(Copyright TT.UNDP.org)

If we lose this opportunity, our nation is likely to join the list of least-developed countries where people are malnourished and the country is unsustainable.

Over the years we have experienced the feast and famine that being dependent on oil and gas has brought us. The prediction is that there will never be a return to the high oil prices of the 70s and 80s so we have to diversify more importantly become food self sufficient.

Let’s do this!