INDEPENDENT Senator Paul Richards on Tuesday asked if Trinidad and Tobago was ready to make the thrust into the digital age.
Richards asked this in a brief contribution to debate on the Electronic Payments into and out of Court (Amendment) Bill 2021 in the Senate.
Similar questions were asked by Independent Senators Charisse Seepersad, Anthony Veira, Dr Maria Dillon-Remy and Hazel Thompson-Ahye during their respective brief contributions to the debate.
The sitting, which began at 1.30 pm, ended at 2.55 pm. All six Opposition senators boycotted the sitting.
Richards described the bill as a welcome initiative. especially in the context of the covid19 pandemic. He observed the global economy, in terms of cash transactions, had declined by six per cent between 2006 and 2016.
"We have also seen economies like Canada moving towards stopping the printing of money, for obvious reasons, and the potential for surveillance of economies is also counteracted by the potential for digital crime, including fraud, unauthorised access and data breaches."
Richards asked if TT has put in place "the infrastructure, digital protection, accountabilities and redundancies for that kind of digital society." He said the elderly and people living in rural communities could be severely disadvantaged if strategies to digitise the economy are not properly developed.
In response, Al-Rawi described these people as "the unbanked" and said the bill was the first piece of legislation to deal with their concerns. "When you look to the structure of the legislation, we allow for the issuance of a card by the Judiciary, similar to a top up card."
He continued, "So if you are unbanked...you did not have a credit card...you did not have an account...what the Judiciary did by way of legislation...in the 2018 legislation...is, we created the unbanked opportunity."
Al-Rawi explained this involved the Judiciary issuing a card similar to cards offered by the Social Development Ministry, "with its food payment structures...as we do with food support mechanisms."
He said, "The Government is extremely aware of the unbanked in our society. It's why we have aggressively pushed to make sure that they are treated with dignity the same way cashless society can operate, by incorporating the unbanked difficulty."
Al-Rawi said collaboration between his ministry and the Public Administration and Digital Transformation Ministry deals with issues like fraud, following the money and avoiding people being arrested for things they had paid for.
He disclosed, "The anti-fraud mechanisms, the ease of doing business mechanisms...we are about to take that on steroids, literally (sic)." After saying people no longer have to go to an office personally to receive birth certificates, Al-Rawi said Public Administration and Digital Transformation Minister Allyson West "will lead the charge on the first bedside registration for a birth."
He concluded, "The horizon is already upon us. These are very exciting times."