KINGSTON –– Jamaica is now poised to become the first total e-government society in this region.
This means that the country will be operating as a digital society where all public services are accessed online.
The plan was announced Friday by Prime Minister Andrew Holness who said that a new National Identification System (NIDS) will serve as the main platform for e-governance locally.
Holness was speaking at a news conference at the Office Prime Minister on the role of technology in the transformation of the Estonian Government and its delivery of services to the public.
The new system, which is being funded mainly by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the tune of US$68 million, will model features of e-governance in Estonia, where 90 per cent of the Estonian Government’s services can be accessed online.
The IDB, over a number of years, has worked with the government of Jamaica (GoJ) across administrations on introducing technology into government services to increase efficiency and improve deliveries.
Providing that all aspects of the new policy are integrated without hiccups, the NIDS will eventually facilitate online tax payments, digital management and delivery of social welfare services and crack down on identity theft.
This may, however, take some time, bearing in mind that it took the Estonian’s Government 15 years to fully integrate technology in their public services. In addition, full implementation will require the trust of citizens as well as effective cyber security.
Dr Arvo Ott, executive director of the e-Governance Academy in Estonia who gave a presentation outlining Estonia’s e-Governance system, pointed out that the benefits are vast and will give a return on investments.
He explained that this will facilitate environmental benefits as there would be no need to print paper. Digital signatures, he said, saves one working week per year in Estonia — approximately two per cent of gross domestic product annually, and paying taxes online was more convenient.
Some features of Estonia’s e-governance include an e-Cabinet where meetings of the executive were paperless, use a web-based document system, and electronic identity allows for virtual participation; e-health, Estonia National Health Information System established in 2005; patient portal dialogue; and in 2010 the development of e-prescriptions; an e-police solution developed in 2007 which eliminates the need for a driver’s licence to be presented as police can check car database; e-school, where parents can check in on their children; e-voting and using ID cards as loyalty cards in supermarkets.
Dr Ott said implementation took a lot of trust building, organisation, changes in legislative framework, fiscal framework, technological infrastructure and the development of an e-governance policy/strategy along with incentives such as cheaper prices if citizens went online.
Locally it is expected that the NIDS will increase the efficiency of public bureaucracy by integrating technology in a coordinated and integrated way across all government sectors.
According to Holness, the first strategy is to identify every single Jamaican uniquely, which means all Jamaicans will have an account in the national database and the national civil registry.
“That account will hold your identification information, and that identity information will allow you to be verified and authenticated in all the databases that are held across government,” Holness explained.
Additionally, Holness clarified that the NIDS is not about having one big database with citizens’ tax, income and property information, nor is it about finding people to enforce or impose things on them. Rather, it’s about giving identity to the Jamaican people, which will allow them to not only participate in the real world, but also in the digital world.
He assured Jamaicans that the aforementioned databases will remain where they are protected by laws of privacy to which every citizen is entitled.
“We want to you to maintain your privacy and give you the assurance that your data is safe, and what we don’t need to know, we don’t need to know. But certainly, we need to have your civil information, starting with your name, address, and other information that helps to uniquely identify you,” he said.
Holness further pointed out that the emphasis on a digital society is not merely because it sounds good, but argued that it’s creation will bring economic growth and job creation to the country and the economy.