E. Bryan - Penetration Of ICTs Within The Caribbean Region
Penetration of ICTs within the
By Emerson O. Bryan
As I begin this discourse on the subject at caption, I think it is useful
consider just how much these new technologies, which, for the
purpose of this discussion I will describe collectively as information
and communications technologies (ICTs) must indicate the
contribution that ICTs have had on us as people, here in the
Caribbean. Several years ago, if there was the threat of a hurricane,
tropical storm, possible flooding etc, you would have to rely on radio
and television broadcasting services. Now, you can get up-to-the minute information on your cell
phone, or if you are fortunate to have Internet access, via the various websites. Most of us are
quite dependent on our cell phones, as the distributions of landlines are oftentimes determined by
the topographical layout of these islands, which may be costly for providers to supply, and also for
customers to pay. Most of the region’s newspapers are also online. Personally, this is how I keep
in touch with what’s going on in my native Jamaica.
Electronic-Government (or e-Government) refers to the use by government agencies of information
technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the
ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These
technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to
citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to
information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less
corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.
(The World Bank, 2005)
Basically, we are as a region exploring how we can maximize the use of ICTs to help governments,
businesses, and communities to become more productive. We are quickly coming to the
realization that these tools (ICTs) could reach out and touch many more persons and affect many
more lives than through the conventional methods.
We are also moving collectively towards the establishment of an ‘Information Society’, which is
based on inclusiveness with the participation of the citizen in the decision making process. This
according to CROSQ1 (CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality) Camella
Rhone is a society where the potential of ICTs is fully exploited for the common good, across
borders, gender, and social distinction. It depends upon interoperable networks, generating,
processing, transmitting and using information, supported by new technologies, and new services.
She also emphasis that standards are required to support this vision. It is very interesting to note
that the countries of the region are a various stages in their uses of ICTs. Therefore, it is good that
there is now a move towards harmonization of the various platforms, legislations, and policies
treating with ICTs and CROSQ has a significant role to play in this regard.
I’d like to point out that according to a recent UNDESA research conducted, that the results have
shown that there is a prevailing scarcity of ICT-related competencies in the region’s public
administration, and among the general population of the Caribbean region. However, at the same
time, there is a great interest among the (general) population, and public sector officers to raise
their ICT-related qualifications (and competencies).
Public Sector Reform
Interestingly also, e-Government is also being tied to public sector reform, and especially pubic
sector modernization, which is geared towards improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the
services provided by the government. Good governance is also assisted through e-Government as
it makes government leaner, flatter, facilitates greater inter and intra governmental collaboration,
and certainly, more transparent and accountable to the public.
It was generally found in the fact-finding missions conducted in nine (9) of our states: Barbados,
Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and
Trinidad and Tobago, that e-Government was not equally pronounced. Each was at a different
state in their eReadiness, i.e.; their ability to get connected online. Usually it was found that some
of the common problems that these states faced were:
I. E-Government was a costly endeavor (Usually there is a very limited pool of funds within
which these projects operate, and hence their longevity and success rates are usually
II. It was difficult to get people interested without a good marketing campaign or supporting
legislation/ regulations (Oftentimes e-Government projects were revenue-geared projects,
and the people would not be very enthused to use these services);
III. Reliable Infrastructural Support (Generally, along with getting the proper computer
equipment with the capability to access the Internet, there are oftentimes issues
surrounding the accessing reliable electricity supply, as well as a good Internet Service
Provider (ISP). In most of these countries, the topography/ relief of the country in question
presents challenges in the way of providing low-cost spectrum arrangements, which would
require less towers);
IV. Threats (Most of these islands also exist within the Hurricane Corridor, which makes it a
very expensive venture for an ISP to provide both low cost access or any access at all.
Utility companies would assess the feasibility of installing utility poles to carry both the
electricity, as well as the telephone lines, in relation to the demand for these services.
V. Divide issues (Most citizens within these states who were computer literate, and were
usually able to access online services one way or another, were within the higher income
brackets. That means that the average citizens within these countries would not be able to
benefit from this kind of access.)
Selected e-Government Programmes at the country-level within the
It is noteworthy however, to mention the efforts of some countries within the region at bridging this
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
FastForward Project2 – This project is committed to implementing the infrastructure that enables
each ministry and department to communicate and share information via email (audio, video and
text), e-messaging. e-scheduling, and Internet access.
The current infrastructure currently links:
• 2 GNMCs
• 20 Main Ministries
• 220 Sub Ministries
Trinidad and Tobago’s FastForward agenda is all about transforming the country into a
knowledge-based society by 2008.
Essentially the Government of St. Lucia has:
i. Established an e-Government Focal Point in the Office of the Prime Minister;
ii. Completed an ICT Policy for the Education System;
iii. Submitted for debate:
- an e-Commerce Policy;
- a National ICT Policy; and
- an e-Government Strategy.
One particular initiative worth mentioning is the St. Lucia Internet Fiesta3, which aims at promoting
greater awareness of the possibilities of the use of the internet among the young and old, as well
as persons within both the private sector and the public sector, in a fun environment. It also helps
with the development of a homogenous network in an electronic environment, with people across
language and cultural barriers. (NB. St. Lucia was occupied during colonial times by both the
English, and the French a record seven (7) times, therefore most St. Lucians speak a local French
dialect, aside from their official language, which is English).
It is interesting to note that currently the Government of Barbados has scattered responsibility for
the provisions of ICT services, policy formulation and programming development. Recently there
have been movements by the government to establish a holistic ICT programme, with the
launching of the Barbados Integrated Government (BIG) Project, and the responsibility for ICT
within a single new authority, the proposed Central Information Management Agency (CIMA).
Some initiatives of note in this regard are:
i. SmartStream – which is a project concerned with the computerization of the government’s
Financial and Human Resource Functions;
ii. EEPSI – the Enabling Environment for Private Sector Investment) Project, which aims at
establishing an information systems network within the Government of Barbados to
facilitate improvements in the government’s performance in promoting and facilitating
private sector investment through collaborative working, and shared access to common
information (e.g.; income tax return forms, immigration forms, etc.). Currently there are
fifteen (15) government agencies linked to this network.
iii. ASYCUDA++ - Automated Systems for Customs Data system to better streamline the
operations of the Barbados Customs Department;
iv. Edutech – the Education Sector Enhancement Programme, which along with implementing
ICT tools within the primary and secondary school system, also promotes information
literacy in Barbados;
v. CTP - Community Technology Programme, which has been reaping a lot of success, was
developed and launched to provide effective access to technology, and the Internet, to
economically disadvantaged communities. (NB. To help this programme, the government
removed VAT on computer equipment and accessories).
Selected e-Government Programmes at the Regional Level
CARICOM Connectivity Agenda for ICTs
This programme aims at providing the most favorable environment, on the most favorable terms
• Promote investment;
• Human Resource Development;
• Creation of jobs;
• Enhanced productivity;
• Extensive and modernized public services, better quality of life; and
• Universal opportunity to participate in the global information society;
Connecting CARICOM People;
Connecting CARICOM people with the rest of the world. } NB. The latter two being the
nucleus of the overall project
One of the projects which I’d also like to make reference is the Caribbean Knowledge Learning
Network (CKLN), which is an e-Learning programme, which was developed jointly among three of
our regional universities: University of the West Indies (UWI), University of Technology, (UTech)
Jamaica, University of Guyana, as well as other tertiary-level institutions within the region, and
selected universities in Italy.
As I’d mentioned earlier, CARICOM has been trying to get the requisite standards through
CROSQ, and regulators such as ECTEL (Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority),
which is responsible for the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member states,
which is a sub-regional collective of states, which coincidentally, with the exception of Anguilla, and
the British virgin Islands, are also members of CARICOM. The Caribbean Telecommunications
Union (CTU) and the Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organizations
(CANTO) are also consulted and are closely involved in the deliberations as well.
Action-Oriented e-Government Strategy for Countries of the Caribbean Region
This strategy was developed with due consideration of the CARICOM Connectivity Agenda, along
with decisions emanating from the Ministerial Consultations on e-Government and the use of ICTs
in government, which were jointly held by the Government of Italy, the United Nations Department
of Economic and Social Affairs (UN/DESA), and the Caribbean Center for Development
Administration (CARICAD), (which is the organization I’m now engaged with). The strategy
recognizes the need for us as a region to exploit ICTs for the general improvement in the quality of
public services, and also the role that ICT could play in economic growth, social development, and
The strategy also aims at realizing some of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), as well.
Inded, goals eight (8) calls on governments to pursue the building of knowledge infrastructure,
particularly ICTs, through creative partnerships.
While the preparations now taking place are not going at the pace they really ought to be if we
really want to truly remain competitive as a region, It must be acknowledged that a lot has been
achieved. I would just draw your attention to the UN Global e-Government e-Readiness Report
2004, where eleven (11) CARICOM countries were ranked in the top one hundred (100) countries,
out of one hundred and ninety-one (191) countries. The regions through these initiatives
acknowledges the important contribution ICTs could provide to further enhance the process of both
greater regional integration, and increased productivity and competitiveness of member states’
economies, which are important elements for us, as we seek to compete in the global market
place. To this end, the region’s governments are now preparing to head to Tunis, to attend the
second caucus of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), to ensure that the region’s
voice is heard.
The comments contained herein do not necessarily reflect the position of the Caribbean Center for Development
Administration (CARICAD) or the United Nations Department for Social and Economic Affairs (UN/DESA).
Caribbean Knowledge Learning Network (CKLN) See:
CARICAD eGovernment Regional Strategy. 2004.
eGovernment Readiness in the Caribbean – An Overview. UNDESA, February 2004.
Global e-Government Readiness Report, 2004. See: <http://www.unpan.org/egovernment4.asp >
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. National Information and Communication Technology (NICT)
Plan 2004. See <http://fastforward.tt/>
St. Lucia Internet Fiesta. See <http://www.candw.lc/users/slu-internetfiesta/>
Ubaldi, Barbara. UNDESA’s eGovernment Initaives for the Caribbean. 2004.
World Bank Website on eGovernment. 2005
Some useful tables from the UN Global e-Government Report, 2004