Since taking office, the BLP administration has been able to draw criticism and skepticism in almost equal amounts. Like any other functioning government there is always something to criticize. Today however, I want to offer them some praise.
The Ministry of Innovation and Smart Technology is a newly minted and a long overdue construct that merged the Data Processing Department, the National Council for Science and Technology and the Office of Public Sector reform, the Chief E-gov Officer and the Telecommunications Unit into a single entity. I offer sincere praise to the current administration for carving out this critical unit and deploying it to do its work.
Under Minister Senator McConney and supported by an exemplary team that includes Dr Annalee Babb, Rodney Taylor of Data Processing and Ovvyng Harewood, the Chief E-Government Development Officer, this team has been ‘quietly’ doing an amazing job at both crafting a vision for the government technology infrastructure and functionality while, at the same time, rolling out one technology project after the next. This country has never seen such sustained ICT deployment before.
To put this in context, Barbados passed the Electronic Transactions Act in 2001, after it was tabled in 1998 to facilitate the deployment of technology by giving legal recognition to electronic records; setting out the requirements for digitally written information; acknowledging and setting the framework for electronic signatures; setting the protocols for the retention of electronic records and defining the parameters of the admissibility and evidential weight of electronic records.
Given this was fashioned 20 years ago, long overdue is actually a subtle description. We have made tepid attempts at deployment before, but because of the lack of a Ministry that was committed to and focused on the delivery of technology, it was always an afterthought and never really seen as the work force multiplier that it could be or as the vehicle for quick, accurate and efficient transactions.
This was not seen as visionary at the time, as it was a general global trend in developing countries. Since then, Estonia, which established its National ICT plan in 2010, boasts of consistent double digit growth and moved from half of the population having landlines in a primarily agrarian economy to being a technology hub and showpiece for digital transformation services with now widespread prosperity. The writer was fortunate enough to be part of a team that helped craft Estonia’s ‘DRIVE’ solution functionality, more than seven years ago.
Uganda created its ICT ministry in 2006. It was mandated to provide leadership, coordination, support and advocacy in the formulation of policy, laws, regulations and strategy for the ICT sector in Uganda, to foster the achievement of national development goals. This too has been a boon for Uganda.
After several years of effort, Kenya promulgated a National ICT Policy in January 2006 that aimed to “improve the livelihoods of Kenyans by ensuring the availability of accessible, efficient, reliable and affordable ICT services. Today, Kenya is a global ICT hub second only to China and India with a supply of high-quality computer engineer talent with more than 3,000 foreign companies setting up ICT labs in the country.
Adopted in 2000, Rwanda’s Vision for 2020 is based on ICT education and deployment as a core pillar of the country’s National Information and Communications Infrastructure Policy and Plan. Rwanda is seen as a digital city, leading IT integration in Africa.
All these countries that started after us, and where some of our talented minds have assisted with their growth and development, have now leap-frogged us and created impressive digital foundations on which they continue to roll out new solutions and deliver tangible and consistent efficiencies for their public and private sectors.
On a deeply personal level, it is one of the most painful acts for a nationalistic individual to help competing countries deliver on technology solutions time and time again, when your own country, which can benefit tremendously from the implementation of sometimes simple solutions, consistently takes the route of deferral, and analysis paralysis. It is heartwarming and uplifting to see what this highly committed and focused team has done, while staying away from the fray of political misadventure.
Building on a vision that has been articulated by Prime Minister Mottley since her time as the Minister of Education, this group has laid out a plan for a Smart City platform, starting with a mesh network deployed in public places in the city; sought responses on a comprehensive Electronic Vehicle Registration solution including license plates; reviewed and provisioned the backbone for delivering citizen E-ID; gone to market with applications for an E-gov portal that seeks to federate all the existing databases and solve the irksome issues of delivering Police Certificates of Character and Liquor License Applications at the same time.
The pace has been frenetic, but one must remember, there should be nothing new here. Messrs Taylor and Harewood are finally able to have the substantial number of projects they had in suspended animation, reviewed, made current as the technology would have changed dramatically since first draft and finally reanimated and deployed.
My only concern is that of overheating. I am not aware of the size of the team but the scope, depth and management of the project implementation, deployment and change management components may suffer if the Senior Leadership team is not able to able to offer the requisite attention due to competing interests, and there are many competing interests out there right now.
This Ministry is also set to tackle very soon what will be its most ambitious project to date as it begins the process of moving an entire government onto a new digital platform. This will include the federation of existing databases and the migration of hard copy documents to digital ones. This too, has been discussed for more than 15 years and it is, again, heart warming after walking through containers of stored files for Town Planning, Health Care and Social Services that we, as a country, are moving to migrate those millions of documents to a format that gives them functional value.
Transforming an entire nation’s digital strategy is challenging; the goal of any digital platform is to provide citizens with a more intuitive platform to engage with their government. I wish the team at the new Ministry continued success in their efforts to deliver on their mandates.
George Connolly is a Finance and Technology professional.