—$1.9B investment to position ICT sector as alternative economic driver
By: Kiana Wilburg
Deliberations in the National Assembly about the difficulties facing the sugar, rice and gold industries have been sobering reminders to the nation’s policy makers that alternative economic drivers must be sought.
Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes, contributing to the budget 2016 debates yesterday in the National Assembly, advocated that the ICT sector and the knowledge management industries will be the ones that will have to be cornerstone of this country’s future.
The Minister listed a number of investments that will be made in the ICT sector.
The Telecommunications Minister said that in keeping with this thrust to expand broadband connectivity and the integration of Ministries, Government shall invest $240M to resuscitate the troubled Fibre Optic Cable Project.
She explained that $140 million has been allocated to consolidate, monitor, maintain and extend the existing eGovernment Fibre Optic and LTE Network around Georgetown and along the coast from Moleson Creek to Charity.
Government will spend a further $100 M to repair and upgrade the Georgetown–Linden Fibre Optic Cable, Hughes said.
She recalled that this project was abandoned by the previous Administration after it had spent $1B. Hughes said that the lack of a feasibility study, poor planning, absence of effective project management and the use of inexperienced contractors are some of the major contributing factors that led to the failure of this project.
Hughes said that Government will move to correct all this so that the people of Guyana, regardless of their socio-economic status or remoteness will be digitally connected and socially included.
The Parliamentarian asserted that the strengthening of the eGovernment system is critical in imparting added value to processes that characterise good governance. She said that improved connectivity within government will permit joint planning and assessment resulting in Government’s business processes becoming more efficient.
Minister Hughes noted that the eGovernment expansion will also serve to facilitate connectivity between Government and citizens thereby strengthening accountability, connectivity between government and citizens and connectivity between and within communities’ thereby building social cohesion and economic development.
Government’s tangible commitment to the ICT sector’s development which she revealed will benefit from a whopping $1.9B investment catered for in the 2016 budget.
She said that in achieving greater collaboration among Government Ministries and Agencies, $80 million is budgeted to acquire Office productivity, email and collaboration software for the Public Sector.
Additionally, $105 million has been allocated for the creation of an off-site data centre and secure electronic document storage solutions for Ministries and Government Agencies.
The Minister said that this combined system will serve to enhance Government business processes, improve service delivery in terms of timeliness and heighten document security.
She said that $326M is also earmarked to design and implement interconnections among Government Ministries, Agencies, State buildings and educational facilities, and to pilot interventions to support access to ICTs in hinterland, poor and remote communities.
The Minister explained that this amount will fund the setting up of ICT Hubs in communities which will be identified on the following criteria: level of poverty, remoteness and social vulnerability. This sum will also fund the provision of Internet access to hubs set up in the indigenous communities.
She said, “In 2016, we therefore intend to leverage the capabilities of ICTs in transforming our economy, thus making it more competitive and productive. To this end, Government will set up Public Internet Access Points (PIAPS) at Government Ministries and Agencies to increase citizens’ access to information and e-Services.
She also noted that Government intends to invest $60M to setup ICT Business Incubators in all regions.
Hughes told the House that Government also plans to expend an initial $25 million towards the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT). This Centre, she explained, will provide training for public sector ICT professionals.
Hughes recalled that the Official Gazette of January 18, 2016 highlights the creation of a new Ministry of Public Telecommunication which now encompasses the original responsibility for tourism and a series of important agencies.
She noted that the new ministry now has responsibility for Telecommunications, Tourism and Postal and Telegraph Services. She said, too, that the departments of the new ministry include; E-Government, National Data Management Authority, National Frequency Management Unit, Guyana Post Office Corporation and the Public Utilities Commission.
As a country, Hughes said that it is imperative to recognise the importance of developing the ICT sector and the placing it at the centre of the development plan.
The Minister noted that fundamental to this is providing internet access and connectivity across all regions of our country, designing a national broadband policy and implementing a supporting strategy.
To lend more credence to the importance of the ICT sector, Hughes referenced the socioeconomic impact of broadband in Latin America and Caribbean countries as stated in an Inter-American Development Bank’s 2012 report.
That document she revealed highlights that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration in 2005 was associated with a 1.34 percent increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP); in 2007, with a 2.29 percent increase; and in 2009, with a 3.19 percent increase.
Hughes said that these findings corroborate that the greater the number of broadband subscriptions in a country over time, the greater impact it will have on that country’s GDP.
The politician said that this is why the United Nations advocates that “we significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”
She added, “Regrettably, over the years in Guyana, the development of ICT as a contributing, productive sector has been slow.”
Hughes noted that the high cost of supporting infrastructure, absence of enabling legislation, limited skill sets has been a significant contributor to this state of affairs.
Hughes noted that traditional ways of incorporating technology, such as importing machinery and equipment or direct foreign investment, are not enough to confront the challenges of inclusive economic development.
She said that it is the effective implementation and utilization of ICT to modernize Guyana to the benefit of its citizens, which will have to be done.
“We have several fundamentally goals and objectives. We must, as a national imperative, utilize ICT to improve the delivery of Government services to all our citizens. We must be able to process our various applications online quickly and get immediate responses to our queries via electronic and live helpdesks.
“Visits to Government offices to collect a form and having to return to drop it off must become a thing of the past.”
“It means that our children in Annai attending the Bena Hill Institute or in Aranaputa for example, must be able to benefit from the knowledge and tuition of the biology teacher at Bishops’ High School or Queen’s College.
Today’s technology makes this easy with Skype. Distance or location must not be an impediment to this goal…”
The Telecommunications Minister said that the Government will ensure that affordable universal broadband access is available for all citizens, private sector, Government and civil society, thereby eliminating the digital divide.
The Telecommunications Minister noted that the liberalisation of the sector has been on the agenda for several years. She recalled that a revised Telecommunications bill was tabled in the House and has been subjected to scrutiny of a select committee.
She said that both government and opposition seemed united in the search for a model piece of legislation to bring an end to the monopoly in this sector.
“But there are several consequential matters that remain to be settled, and for which further consultations with a major player, GT&T, are on-going. It is hoped therefore that the process of liberalisation would be completed during this year and that the national spectrum will be opened to all strategic partners and we promise to have an even playing field.”
Hughes also noted that comprehensive intellectual property is fundamental for the development of a successful knowledge economy.
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