By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE digital transformation of the Bahamas Cabinet and all government services will soon become a reality through a $30-million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) loan that is expected to be executed within the next two to three weeks by the Government of the Bahamas, according to a cabinet minister.
State Minister for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson on Friday said that government will be moving toward a paperless Cabinet system by implementing a programme called e-Cabinet.
He also said they will be adopting the model being used in Estonia to transform the country's e-government services.
Mr Thompson was speaking at the closing of “Consumer Week”, hosted by the Consumer Affairs Unit of the Ministry of Labour at the Harold DeGregory Complex, in Freeport. This year's theme was "Trusted Smart Products." He spoke on behalf of Labour Minister Dion Foulkes who was unable to attend.
"As a government, we must also be focused on digital revolution and digital transformation of our government," he told students and those attending.
"If the private sector is moving forward with digital services, the banks with online services, insurance companies and other companies are moving forward with digital services, but the government is still far behind, then it is a major problem for the country," Minister Thompson explained.
He noted that government is focused on advancing and expanding e-government services.
"Within the next two to three weeks, you will see the government execute an IDB loan for $30 million towards transforming our e-government services," he said.
Senator Thompson said that they will start transforming the way the government does business from the top level of Cabinet.
"So, in this day and age in 2019 where you may have 20 cabinet ministers and every week those Cabinet ministers have to lug a load of papers to every meeting where we discuss every paper, and make decisions on those papers, we made a decision and a commitment to move toward a paperless Cabinet system.
"Cabinet is the highest decision making body in the country, and if we can make a decision more effectively and more efficiently then that means that those decisions can be executed more (quickly) - so it has to start from the top down."
Minister Thompson said decisions in Cabinet can be done online where ministers are able to view and make decisions, and communicate with each other online and paperless.
"We have made a decision that we will be paperless when it comes to the Cabinet, and we will institute a programme called e-cabinet where decisions will be made online securely and with all the proper cyber-security. "
The Minnis Administration is impressed with Estonia's e-government system. Mr Thompson noted that Estonia – a country a little bigger than the Bahamas with about 1 million people compared to the 300,000 to 400,000 people in The Bahamas –- is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to e-government.
According to Mr Thompson, The Bahamas already has some good e-government services, particularly at the Registrar General’s Office, Health Records, and at National Insurance.
However, he stressed: "One thing we have not been good at is government agencies digitally speaking to each other."
With the adoption of Estonia's e-government model, Mr Thompson said that government agencies will be able to digitally access information about someone from another government agency.
"If a government agency has a piece of information about you, no other government agency should be able to ask you for that same piece of information. If we begin to move toward that one principle it will revolutionize and transform e-government services," he said.
"If you are going to the Road Traffic Office and a Birth Certificate and Passport are required, the Registrar General will be able to digitally transport the birth certificate, and the Passport Office would be able to digitally transport passport information to the Road Traffic – and that will immediately change the way that we do business and provide services to Bahamians."
In addressing concerns about hacking, Mr Thompson explained that when the government embarks on government services being digital, they will also have to embark on a cyber security programme.
He noted that they will ensure the public is educated about how to use the services and how to protect themselves in using the services.
"A huge part of the digital transformation is about digital education, which is also about cyber security," Mr Thompson said.
He noted that services today are not really secure. "How secure are your services today? he asked. “One aspect of the digital revolution, which will also change, is that whole mindset about how we view data and who sees your data and who is able to see your data will be addressed. So, today at the Registrar General's Office there is nothing stopping someone from copying that document and sending it off to whomever they want to send it to; the same thing with respect to health records. But digitally, you will know who is seeing your document and who has access to your document," he said.
Stephanie Ferguson, Deputy Director of Consumer Protection Commission, also spoke. Students and invited guests also viewed the demonstration of new smart cars with Carlton Bosfield of Northern Bahamas Utilities.