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?
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.
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.
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.