by George Alleyne
When a job seeker applies for a certificate of character, a cumbersome search begins that not only takes a long time and tests willingness of the public service worker, but it could also produce inaccurate information.
The search for information on the person who submitted the application can be time-consuming because the relevant file is buried among thousands of hand-written documents stashed away in cabinets.
Adding to the likely delay must be the human factor because a clerk within the Ministry of Home Affairs is required to leave a desk and relentlessly tumble through the files in an altogether bulky system to find information on a single applicant.
When the specific file is eventually found, the risk is that information on that handwritten note may be years old, not accounting for the possibility that the applicant might have had a brush with the law and appeared in court last month, last week, or yesterday.
This, explained Minister of Innovation, Science and Smart Technology, Kay McConney, is typical of many government departments, though on a lesser scale, and is the reason for the coming massive project for digitisation of public records.
Speaking over the weekend she also said the situation in the Police Certificate of Character office explains why government has not yet made available online simple things such as application forms although the civil service already has the technology.
“While a person might fill up the application quickly online, the search process behind the scene takes forever,” she said Sunday in an interactive conversation with residents of St James North at St Alban’s Primary School.
Constituency Member of Parliament and Home Affairs Minister, Edmund Hinkson, had invited McConney to explain government’s digitisation process.
“For us to make that system work faster, we have to digitise those cards. More than 60,000 of them and counting,” she said of the Police Certificate of Character office.
“When people say why you don’t move fast and put this online, yes we will but understand that for the system to work – we have the technology, and process – you have to have data.
“So, we must first digitise those records to make that system work.
“The process has been modernised. The technology can be applied. But now we need to digitise to make it all work together.”
For years Barbadians have been crying out about the amount of time it takes to obtain a vital Police Certificate of Character, and when they eventually receive the document the job opportunity is already taken.
Similar complaints of other government services have contributed to the island being ranked 129th out of 190 countries measured in the World Bank’s 2019 Ease of Doing Business index and 72nd out of 140 states in the Global Competitiveness Report.
“When you correlate the countries that are ahead of us in Ease of Doing Business and those that are ahead of us in Competitiveness, what is it you think that many of them have that we don’t?” McConney asked rhetorically, and answered, “they have engaged in the digital age, in terms of communication technology, in terms of the way they do business.”
She said this is the reason that Barbados has ‘a distance to travel’ toward the goal of becoming a top-ranked place for doing business and once again a jurisdiction that competes worldwide and wins.
McConney said that digitisation is part of a movement to ‘future proof’ Barbados, and this relates to education, innovation, science, and business on the island.
“If we’re going to be world class we have to do better than the bottom half. And we have to do better than the 67 per cent above us when it comes to Ease of Doing Business.
“We cannot compete unless we embrace the very same innovation and technologies and other ways of doing business that the rest of the world has.”
She stressed a need for being in sync with the rest of the digital globe because, “we do not live in a world of our own”.
“We must now, therefore, modernise and digitise because in so doing it allows us to have a very different relationship with the world, and it allows us to move forward in terms of becoming more competitive internationally.”