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