Wed | Oct 4, 2023

Dangerous rumours

Holness rips online critics for stoking fears about digital currency

Published:Thursday | June 1, 2023 | 1:12 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Prime Minster Andrew Holness addressing the Inter-American Development Bank Government Digital Transformation in Jamaica, held at the AC Marriott Hotel in St Andrew yesterday.
Prime Minster Andrew Holness addressing the Inter-American Development Bank Government Digital Transformation in Jamaica, held at the AC Marriott Hotel in St Andrew yesterday.

Reacting to rumours and growing suspicion among segments of the society, Prime Minister Andrew Holness yesterday said it was “stupidness” that some Jamaicans and others have recently been criticising the Government over its establishment of new bank notes and a cashless system with digital currency.

Representatives of churches and others have, in recent months, been arguing that the national digital payment infrastructure is part of ‘a new world order’ and have raised their concerns about it.

Holness, while delivering the opening remarks at an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Government Digital Transformation in Jamaica event at the AC Marriott Hotel in St Andrew yesterday, took time out to address the issue.

The prime minister, at one point in his presentation, asked to be pardoned from his “departure from calmness”, saying he had to “call it out”.

“There is no mandate to be cashless … . There is no attempt by the Government to remove cash, meaning paper money, from the system. Just stop for one moment,” Holness declared. “Just be rational. Why would the Government spend billions of dollars to change currency to a new durable bank note, that we don’t have to be changing it ever so often, only to turn around and take it out of the system?”

Unreasonable and hypocritical

He added: “This unnecessary and unreasonable and very dangerous trend that is emerging to keep Jamaica out of being on the cutting edge of development, and, as I said, it is very hypocritical because the same people who are trying to prevent you from using technology are using technology. When you see them post, tell them, ‘Come off TikTok! Come off Twitter! And go and talk in the town square’.”

In continuing, the prime minister stated that on Wednesday morning, he was looking at a Twitter post with someone saying, “With digital currency, government can restrict your transactions. With digital currency, government could get up today and say, ‘No more! You can’t do any business!” and that made him upset.

He then said how concerned he was for those individuals who were attracted to online rumours.

“Don’t you see it is stupidness? But the number of people who have followed it gets me worried about what Jamaicans are consuming as information. I’m worried! Where is our reasoning? And why is it so simple for us to be attracted by rumours? As your prime minister, I have a duty to call it out when I see it!” he shouted.

Holness, in pointing to the benefits of digital technology, went on to make reference to the new National Identification System (NIDS).

“Other than remote authentication with digital ID, which digital ID will solve this issue of remote authentication, the other big barrier to transaction is that too many Jamaicans do not have a bank account or any other facility to make digital payments,” Holness said.

He explained that cashless, which he argued was the way forward, offers Jamaicans convenience and questioned the progression of Jamaica with the cashless system in comparison to the world.

“The same threats that exist with digital currency [are] some of the same threats existing with cash. We have seen the situation in India, for example, where the government decided that they were going to dematerialise some notes. It’s the same threat that could happen with a digital currency ... . Are we at that point now where this can be widespread in the society? No, we’re not there yet, but we’re on our way, and we must get there. We must get to this level of efficiency in our society where we can remove the pain points that make living in Jamaica sometimes such a distress,” Holness said.

“It shouldn’t be that you have to line up for [a] long time to get your police records. That any interaction that you’re doing with government, you have to provide the same documents over and over again … . In a sense, there is an inevitability that we have to get our digital systems in order, so we will get there. We will get to a point when the NIS pensioner does not need to go to the JP every two months or so to have this proof of life certificate signed to get their pension. What a great convenience that would be for our pensioners,” he said.

... PM urges Jamaicans to not fear technology

Instead of buying into rumours and criticising digital currency as the way forward, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has urged persons to ask about laws to protect consumers and not fear technology.

The prime minister said he wants the conversations to be more focused on “How do we strengthen our laws to make sure that we protect rights?’”

With regard to examples of other countries progressing with a successful digital currency, Holness mentioned Kenya, which he has visited. He explained how amazed he was to see people in remote parts of that nation embracing technology.

“Their payment is digital. You’ll just see average Kenyans going into their supermarket and punching up on their phones and making payments. When I asked one Kenyan who was assigned to me as my driver, he explained that he sends his money to his mother who lives in a remote part, almost close to the desert, and he sends to her digitally and she goes to the supermarket and uses her phone,” Holness said.

“What are we saying, that we shouldn’t have this convenience as well? Is this going to bring the end of times? Ridiculous!” he said.

The Government of Jamaica previously launched JAM-DEX, the central bank’s digital currency, and there are banks and other entities that are in the process of launching digital wallets. This is one of the base points some persons have been using to accuse the Government of contributing to a new world order that seeks to control people worldwide.

One of those individuals who have been criticising Holness for creating “a digital concentration camp” has been Pastor Andrew Henriques, host of Saved to Serve broadcast on Prophecy Again TV on YouTube under the theme ‘PM Andrew Holness Sets Up Digital Dystopian Camps In Jamaica. Free WiFi Linked To New World Odor’.

On May 15, through a YouTube channel, Henriques blasted Holness and the Government for contributing to the new world order through the country’s new digital currency platform.

At one point during the YouTube video, Henriques said: “Many of you who are now living now in Jamaica and others who are in the Diaspora, you’re planning to return to Jamaica, let me tell you something. You are walking into, you are about to enter into a digital concentration camp!”

In his YouTube presentation, he also briefly replayed a presentation by Senator Kamina Johnson Smith in the Senate where, in debating new legislation, the leader of government business said that the new digital currency will largely be “based around deleting and replacing references to notes and coins in the Bank of Jamaica Act with the words notes, coins and central bank digital currency with a view to expanding the reference, thereby empowering the Bank of Jamaica as the sole authority to issue CBDC and to recognise CBDC as legal tender”.