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E. Bryan - Penetration Of ICTs Within The Caribbean Region


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E. Bryan - Penetration Of ICTs Within The Caribbean Region

  1. 1. Penetration of ICTs within the Caribbean Region 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. e-Government? 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) 1
  2. 2. 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. 1 See: 2
  3. 3. 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 limited); 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.) 3
  4. 4. Selected e-Government Programmes at the country-level within the Region It is noteworthy however, to mention the efforts of some countries within the region at bridging this Digital Divide. 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. St. Lucia 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 2 See: 4
  5. 5. - 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). Barbados 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; 3 See: 5
  6. 6. 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 for: • 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. 6
  7. 7. 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 2004-2007 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 decision-making. 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. 7
  8. 8. Conclusion 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. DISCLAIMER 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). 8
  9. 9. WORKS CONSULTED 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: < > Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. National Information and Communication Technology (NICT) Plan 2004. See <> St. Lucia Internet Fiesta. See <> Ubaldi, Barbara. UNDESA’s eGovernment Initaives for the Caribbean. 2004. World Bank Website on eGovernment. 2005 See:<> 9
  10. 10. Some useful tables from the UN Global e-Government Report, 2004 10