A project to implement smart ID cards in Barbados appears to have been abandoned, with deep financial losses being incurred. Here, we outline what seemed to have transpired in Barbados, and highlight three takeaways that are not only applicable to Governments, but could be considered by businesses and organisations.


In local newspapers in Barbados last week, it was revealed that the Government had to dump about 500,000 unused chip-based identification (ID) cards, resulting in a loss of approximately BDS 4 million (around USD 2 million). In summary, the reason why the cards had to be abandoned is because they had become obsolete. According to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Smart Technology Senator Kay McConney, the following occurred:

… about seven years ago the then Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration had invested in about half-a-million multi-purpose ID cards that were to be used to “re-register the population” and for national insurance purposes and even pay for bus rides on Transport Board buses.

However, she said the chip-based cards “sat in storage all of these years” rendering them almost useless.

“Just this year the ministry had those cards sent for forensic testing and the ministry also spoke with the manufacturers of the silicone chips that are in those cards, and unfortunately the manufacturers of the chip have informed Barbados that those cards, having sat in storage for so many years, they cannot guarantee their performance at this time,” she revealed.

“We were also told that the chips are no longer being manufactured and therefore, should Barbados choose to proceed and use those cards they will not be providing any technical support should there be a malfunction,” added McConney.

(Source:  Barbados Today)

Had Barbados implemented the smart ID cards seven years ago, it would most likely have been considered one of the early adopters globally, and certainly would have been seen as a pioneer in the Caribbean. These chip-based ID cards, which may also hold biodata, can be used as a national ID card, but when coupled with a move towards seamless government, can allow card holders to access a broad range of service using that one form of ID. Hence essentially, such a card can follow an individual from the cradle to the grave – e.g. being issued upon registration of a birth, and thereafter being used with respect to health, education, social services, employment, etc., as his/her life unfold.

However, while it might be difficult to wrap your head around the abandonment of such an important project in Barbados, and the financial loss incurred, it is emphasised that to varying degrees, similar situations are common across the Caribbean region. We thus take the opportunity to highlight possible three takeaways, which could be applied not only by governments, but also by the private sector.

Speed of technology is evolving cannot be underestimated

In the first instance, this almost incredulous and unfortunate series of events in Barbados emphasise the fact that technology is evolving faster than we think, and that is not limited to mass consumer devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers. Further, for equipment and devices are considered cutting-edge, the evolution might be even more accelerated, as the industry itself matures, standards are established and matters related to interoperability are addressed.

Having said this, seven years is a long time! Although obsolescence in the technology being used and the upgrade (or abandonment) of some devices should be expected, the deterioration of the components and materials comprising a particular device should also be expected. So, although they might still be operational, they are likely to malfunction earlier that anticipated or operate erratically, based on the deterioration that had occurred.

Poor project management seems to be evident

Second, as was indicated in Minister McConney’s account, there was indeed a larger project that should have been implemented. However, projects get halted for a number of reasons, including but not limited: a lack of funds; the project specifications have changed; the situation in which the project would have been implemented having changed sufficiently that it is no longer tenable; or the project no longer has the support it needs to support its implementation.

For such a large and important project – the roll out of a new smart ID system across Barbados – which would have comprises several phases, and numerous activities across the entire Government. Such projects tend to be subject to regular monitoring and evaluation, which should have flagged implementation that were being experienced, and consequently, if the project was being abandoned or deferred, steps could have been taken to minimise losses that could be incurred.

A question of accountability: too many things are falling through the cracks

Finally, the situation highlights major gaps and deficiencies in the Barbados Government, and perhaps even at the Parliamentary level, since budgets, major initiatives, and legislation need to be approved by that body. Hence, it ought have discovered – years ago – that the smart ID cards had been purchased, but more importantly, that the project may not have been progressing at the rate anticipated.

In light of the significant loss the smart ID project, and the corresponding financial loss, to the people of Barbados, questions about accountability of the Government ought to be raised. Furthermore, such a major initiative seemed (somehow) to have fallen through the cracks, and is discovered years later when little or no remediation is possible.



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