PRIME Minister Andrew Holness says the Jamaican economy must now rapidly transition to online transactions, as the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the inefficiencies and riskiness of cash transactions.
He made the observation in his Labour Day message yesterday, pointing out that the risks and gaps not only relate to security, but also public health, particularly when a large number of people gather to collect money transfers or make in person payments.
The prime minister said governments have been slow to transition the economy to online platforms.
“I believe most Jamaicans would now understand the efficiency, convenience, and safety of transacting online. To live with COVID-19, we will have to rapidly transition our economy to online transactions as the new normal. This means intensification of the programme of financial inclusion, to ensure every Jamaican has access to easy-to-use, reliable, and affordable financial technology services,” he said.
Holness again argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for a comprehensive national identification system, stressing that the Government must be able to ascertain and verify the identity of, and account for the benefit provided to each person, not only to ensure that the right individuals are receiving benefits but to protect the general public good.
He said such an identification system is crucial, especially during periods when the threat is individualised – when “the individual gets sick, the individual must be treated, the individual must be contact-traced, the individual gets laid off, the individual requires care packages, the individual requires [a] government compassionate grant, and the individual requires exemption to move within curfew hours”.
Furthermore, the prime minister said, having a standardised system of identification significantly reduces transaction costs and processing times. He said this increases efficiency of public bureaucracy, reduces waste of resources, and increases con
He also noted that while the Government has announced that it will not renew the work-from-home order when it expires at the end of this month, it is encouraging companies to continue to reconfigure their work modalities and follow the workplace orders already in place, along with new protocols that are being developed.
He stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the country to look at work and productivity through different lenses, pointing out that [though] the technology for virtual work has been available for some time, COVID-19 has now forced its use, and some employers and employees have discovered that the technology is effective.
Prime Minister Holness also pointed to the six-year-old flexible work arrangement legislation which, he said, facilitates some of the arrangements that have been made at this time. “We now see where, with greater coordination and use of the flexible work arrangement measures, we could possibly increase efficiency,” he stated.
Holness noted that more than a third of employees from the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry are now seamlessly working from home, and that it is evident that even in the midst of the economic downturn, workers in industries which can reconfigure their business process to work virtually will have a better chance at faster recovery.
Holness said while the Government is cognisant of the hardships now facing many households as a result of job losses and reduced or no incomes, and has provided some assistance, it is not a feasible prospect or solution to offer multiple rounds of this assistance programme.
“The real solution is to get the economy up and running again to full capacity, while we limit high-risk and non-essential activities that would cause the spread of the virus without any productive gain, and put more stress on our health system and our dedicated front line workers who have been working so hard to contain the spread of the virus,” he stated.