BE BOLD BAHAMAS – Digitization, and Dignity

Former AG Allyson Gibson Q.C.

By Allyson Maynard-Gibson Q.C.

I congratulate the government on taking the step of moving payment of NIB benefits to digital wallets. This is a step in the right direction to diminishing, if not terminating, long lines at NIB, social services, food stores, and other service places. Unfortunately, as I write, the morning after the PM’s speech, I see, in social media, long lines on Tonique Williams Darling highway. It is said that the line represents people waiting for vouchers at the “union building”.

In 2015/2016, I worked closely with Bahamian experts in the Department of Information Technology (“DIT”) and the IT department of NIB when the private and public sector partnership (“PPP”) were working to launch incorporation of companies entirely online, and other online services, at the Registrar General’s Department (“RGD”). We also worked closely with the IT department at NIB and Bank of The Bahamas (“BOB”). From this experience, I know that the GOB and NIB digital platform is set up to transfer and receive funds. I also know that the GOB digital platform is set up to transact business with third parties. During this time, BOB was the clearing house for these commercial transactions between GOB and the private sector. This service provided by BOB also benefitted BOB.

NIB cards are unique to the holder of the card. I again suggest that social services, NIB and other benefits should be transferred to the NIB card. The NIB card could be used to obtain goods and services.

There is more than enough room in the market for digital wallets and the NIB card (my comments apply equally to the RISE card about which I previously wrote). Experts in this space have advised that a digital wallet will require data on the cell phone. Further, the user may have to pay a charge for the use of the service. On the other hand, the NIB cards would not require data on a cell phone. A transfer from a GOB agency to the NIB card would be the same as an electronic transfer to pay a bill. The transfers to and from the NIB card would occur entirely on the GOB, or GOB controlled, digital platform. This means that GOB, and not the NIB card holder would pay the service fees for use of the card on the GOB platform. I’m also advised that GOB can immediately implement transfers and services using the digital NIB card and that it would not take long to reestablish the RISE card.

There may be people who would rather receive their NIB or other benefits using a digital wallet. Many other people need every cent transferred. Service fees would diminish the sum they receive.

Another reason for providing more than one option to receive this service is that competition promotes efficiency. While the digital wallet is to become an option, especially in the 21st century, GOB should not be seen to promote monopoly.

In summary, the NIB card can immediately be used to transfer benefits and acquire goods and services (including home deliveries). This would decrease or eliminate lines at GOB agencies, food stores, etc. GOB and not the holder of the card, would carry the cost of providing the service. This will enable the card holder to use every penny of the benefit to obtain essential goods. This mindset and operational change would cause people to see GOB operating in a 21st century manner and recognizing the dignity of every person. No one should have to stand in a line for hours to get food.

Yes we can!

20th April, 2020