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E-Government Could Revitalise Bahamas Public Sector
Source: tribune242.com
Source Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Country: Bahamas
Created: Nov 11, 2010

The government unveiled its plans to strengthen and expand the country's information technology infrastructure yesterday - an ambitious initiative that if executed correctly could herald a complete revitalisation of the public sector.

Under the guidance of the government of Singapore - a country renowned for its groundbreaking use of information technology to drive economic success - the Bahamian government hopes to launch the first phase of new online services in less than eight months.

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Staff Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

THE HIGHLY anticipated modernisation of the public service sector could eliminate a number of inadequacies that have become synonymous with the culture of the Bahamas, according to officials.

Drawing from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) successes of Singapore - whose prodigal journey from an estimated $966 million GDP at independence in 1965 to an estimated $235.7 billion GDP in 2010 has received international notoriety - Minister of Finance Zhivargo Laing is confident the country is ready to embrace the 21st Century.

Mr Laing said: "The advent of the Internet has changed the way we communicate and share information. This is true not only for social networking and keeping in touch with family and friends but also for commerce, learning, banking and all facets of everyday life. This undertaking is a fundamental one for us in the Bahamas. It will change the culture of doing business and providing public services in our nation. It will involve a substantial investment on our part but the gains will be significant."

The infrastructure initiative "e-Government" was unveiled to parliamentarians and senior government officials yesterday, and with it, projections of a public service sector that could be engaged at anytime, from anywhere.

Mr Laing said: "e-Government refers to the use of information and communications technology by government agencies to interact with employees, citizens, businesses and others agencies. The activities of which can be categorised as: publishing - content is published to the Internet; interacting - two-way communication is established; and transacting - transactions are conducted online."

The firm partnering with the government on this substantial improvement initiative is IDA International - a subsidiary of IDA Singapore, the government agency dedicated to guiding Singapore's vision for economic growth through the Information and Communications industry.

Mr Laing said: "To advance our e-Government efforts and improve our online service delivery strategy, the government of the Bahamas has engaged the government of Singapore, through its technology arm, IDA International, to recommend a way forward that will employ the best practices, and follow a model that would yield the most for our endeavour.

"The government will seek to lay the technical foundation and governance structure in the Singapore Model to drive the Bahamas' e-Government agenda, and by early in the next financial year, will be launching the government online services portal, govNet.bs, with several services that will cater to citizens and businesses."

During the presentation, IDA executives illustrated possibilities that are now a reality for the tiny island country of Singapore, and explained that these benefits were also within grasp for the Bahamas.

The first batch of online services are expected to be launched in July of next year, and include: the payment of business licence fees, payment of real property tax, payment of fines, renewal of a driver's licence, application for new business licenses, vendor inquiries (payments, invoices and purchase orders) and service-wide customer service.

Representatives illustrated how the Bahamas could also be freed from the archaic system to which it has become accustomed, using Singapore as evidence of the latent benefits possible through improved ICT infrastructure.

Long queues, data backlogs and the frustrations that accompany them for both public servants and their customers also encroached upon the quality of life of the people of Singapore - but this was almost 30 years ago.

Post-independence, the technology infrastructure giant was struggling with minuscule land mass, overwhelming population growth, and a labour intensive economy.

After effecting a total shift in economic and manpower strategies towards the cultivation and implementation of information technology by the government, Singapore is now experiencing the results of successive national ICT plans.

Now in its sixth plan, the country, which had a total of 850 IT professionals in 1980, has established a globally competitive Infocomm Industry and has been ranked number one in 'ease of doing business' for five consecutive years.

Mr Laing said: "The Bahamas is seeking to do the same. In the long term we would like to use technology to make the Bahamas the best place to work and live in the Caribbean.

"We envision a Bahamas where technology is the driver in all sectors in our society: tourism, education, financial services, government, health care, transportation, and commerce. "

"In the medium term we see e-Government as the enabler of true public sector reform as it will provide the baseline for measuring government agencies' performance; introduce online customer service and encourage response; provide easy access to government service; clarify government processes; improve efficiency and transform the way the government collects revenue. "

The successful implementation of e-Government is expected to engender an efficient and responsive government, with increased transparency through equal opportunity to government services and contracts.

An integrated public service sector, armed with functional information technology tools, promises an education sector where online classes and video conferences are the norm, health services that can be accessed and managed remotely, an e-Commerce marketplace which would offer inclusion of local businesses, a transparent financial services sector and most importantly an improved justice system.

Mr Laing said: "We imagine the possibilities - where lawyers can file documents online, court documents are digitised and readily available to authorised persons, the backlog is no more and cases are adjudicated in record time. "

However - as the six-month-long study by IDA International concluded - the Bahamas must make great leaps to close the gaps in current infrastructure before public service in the country can effectively progress into the 21st century.

In addition to obvious limitations due to the current state of online services, which were found to be duplicative with limited automation and to lack transactional services, core inefficiencies were found in the government's vision and strategy, organisation and capacity for information technology.

The report cited scarce ICT manpower, low morale among staff and noted that the existing data centre and government network needed to be enhanced to meet the anticipated increase in demand.

The study also concluded the lack of governance structure in the current system would not allow for the definite strategic direction needed to implement the proposed widespread policy changes.

Mr Laing said: "A lot of work must be done in terms of trying to get people to understand what e-Government is, to understand the benefits that e-Government can provide. We really want to have a significant launch of it and then to take subsequent opportunities to meet with even smaller groups to talk about it as we implement it.

"It means change of workflow, change of attitude, change of skills - for some people - so what they did point out to us and what is going to be our own efforts is training, giving people as much training as possible so that they feel comfortable with the tech, comfortable with the programme, and feel as if its making a difference in their own lives and the service that they provide.

"What is going to be important is not learning the technology - as in accessing the internet for instance - but how to operate in an environment where technology is driving what you do."

In the following weeks the government will embark on a national public education campaign to keep the population - its customers - abreast of the huge changes expected in the months going forward.

Mr Laing added: "We seek to have the fullest possible buy-in by our society.

"Similar meetings will be held for civil servants, businesspersons, educators, religious leaders and the public at large throughout the nation.

"It is our hope to ensure that as full an understanding of what we are doing is achieved and that we will work together as a nation to make this important endeavour work. I invite all to participate."

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