By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said yesterday his government is currently designing a pilot programme to digitally connect government agencies such as the Passport Office and Road Traffic Department - a process that would allow Bahamians to fully apply online for these services without physically providing documents.
Dr Minnis also said citizens will be able to carry one card which will likely be a “modified version” of the National Insurance Board card, which will be “an electronic identification with a digital signature, instead of passport, drivers’ licence, et cetera.” He noted this will be used instead of persons having to produce documents such as birth or marriage certificates.
He added once the pilot programme is fully implemented, Bahamians should be able to “fully and securely” apply online for these services.
“Yes, that means no more Passport Office lines for renewals,” Dr Minnis said, to applause.
Dr Minnis made these remarks yesterday while speaking at the signing ceremony for two Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loans — the “Government Digital Transformation to Strengthen Competitiveness” and “The Contingent Loan for Natural Disasters”.
When asked if there is a timeline for when this digital revolution will occur, Dr Minnis told reporters: “No, we would work as aggressively as possible, because it’s demoralising when one sees the amount of individuals who are waiting in long lines to obtain their passports. So that must be placed as a priority.
“It’s the government’s responsibility is to improve the quality of life for its citizens. So that will be a priority.
“I couldn’t give you a specific time. But what I can say, it will be done as fast and quickly as possible.”
During his remarks, Dr Minnis also described a second pilot project for e-Cabinet that will increase government efficiency.
He added the government will be employing a “once only” policy that means when one government agency owns or has information, every other agency will be prohibited from requesting that document.
“The loans are designed to modernise and digitise public services and government, and provide contingency funds in the aftermath of natural disasters,” Dr Minnis said.
“Government services will be made easily available online to the residents of all of our major islands,” he continued, especially noting Grand Bahama must be prepared for the “dynamic, new economy” developing there.
Speaking about the $30m first loan, Dr Minnis said: “Every ministry and department… must identify where there is inefficiency in its government bureaucracy and significantly improve processes to deliver services with much greater efficiency.
“This programme will foster competitiveness in the Bahamas by reducing the time and cost of conducting business with government.
“Government procedures will be streamlined and placed online. There will be greater use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) by the public service sector and by the public. There will be increased transparency of government activities as well as the strengthening of auditing and control mechanisms.”
Noting government agencies still do not digitally talk to each other, Dr Minnis said: “We will employ a ‘once only’ policy so that when one government agency owns or has a document or a bit of data every other agency will be prohibited from requesting the very same document again and again and again. This is ridiculous and unfair. The new system will be designed for interoperability in which requisite data will be verified by the system.
“No longer will the Passport Office or the Ministry of the Public Service ask you for your birth certificate or marriage certificate. Citizens and residents will only need to carry one card which will likely be a modified version of the NIB card. This will be an electronic identification with a digital signature, instead of passport, drivers’ licence, etc.
“Online services will be accessed through a single window facility at international standards for infrastructure and applications, as well as with security and service delivery at the forefront.”
He also assured the public that cyber security also will be upgraded.
“All government agencies, utilities, quasi-government agencies and even banks on the platform, will be required to adhere to the standards that will be developed.
“I am pleased that the road to our digital transformation has already begun,” he continued.
“We are currently designing a pilot which will involve renewals of passports and driver’s licences, and the verification of birth certificates, affidavits and police certificates. The agencies to be involved in this pilot are the Passport Office, the Road Traffic Department, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Registrar General’s Department and the National Insurance Board.
“The pilot will be the first to digitally connect these ministries and the information will be shared digitally. Once fully implemented Bahamians should be able to fully and securely apply online for these services without physically providing birth certificates, marriage certificates, and police certificates. Yes, that means no more Passport Office lines for renewals!”
Regarding the e-Cabinet second pilot, Dr Minnis said it will cause Cabinet memoranda and decisions to be paperless.
“Our decisions and the implementation of those decisions should be faster and more efficient,” he added.
Dr Minnis also noted the recent launch of the Prime Minister’s Stakeholders Roundtable, which is made up of public and private sector partners, to help shape, monitor, and guide this transformation programme.
“We are also exploring a consultancy within the region for the development of our national information and communications technology strategy and digital agenda.
“We will need to source new talent in the public service, engage in public awareness and education,” he continued, calling for public officers to actively participate in the process.
Regarding the second loan, Dr Minnis noted the damage wrought by Hurricanes Joaquin, Matthew, and Irma to the Bahamas were approximately $828 million.
“The CCL is a line of credit that is on standby in the event that we are hit by a hurricane and require additional funds to recover.
“By design and by government policy, these funds can only be accessed in response to natural disasters. Any prudent government would do what we are doing, that is, to have the ability to access funding if and when needed.
“This approach is consistent with developing an effective financial strategy to deal with disaster preparedness. It includes using the proceeds of the extinguished dormant accounts to set up an independently managed disaster relief fund. It also includes signing up once again for the regional insurance fund, the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), in order to provide coverage for public infrastructure in the event of catastrophic damages.”
The credit line facility provides access to $100 million.