By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday admitted the inability of government agencies “to speak to one another” is undermining public sector efficiency, branding their planned digital transformation as “essential”.
Senator Kwasi Thompson, pictured, minister of state for Grand Bahama, told the Central Bank’s second annual blockchain seminar that a unit has been established in the Prime Minister’s Office to oversee the digitisation of government services and boost the country’s competitiveness.
“An IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) loan in the amount of $30m has been approved for the digitisation process by the House of Assembly, and it is anticipated that the signing ceremony will take place in a few weeks,” said Mr Thompson.
“Currently there is an online presence of 400 services. Notice I said online presence. That is, you can obtain the forms online. Fifteen of the 400 are actually online services, but may still require you visiting more than one site. For the other services, which are greater than 400, you are required to physically visit an office more than once. Vital documents required for most major transactions – opening a bank account, applying for a job, buying and selling a house - may take anywhere from two weeks to upwards of six weeks.
Mr Thompson added: “Many ministries are making strides in digitisation like the Ministry of Education, which is making computers available to all of its teachers and students throughout all public schools; the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, which has begun training on a case management application; the Ministry of Labour, which has a job seekers application; and the Ministry of Finance, which has been getting much praise for its online services at the Department of Inland Revenue and is in the process of implementing a new financial management package including for procurement. And so it goes on.
“The issue is that these are created in silos to various requirements, standards and ICT (information and communications technology) policies, which lessens their ability to become interoperable or to speak to each other. Our government ministries, departments and offices must begin to digitally speak to each other.”
“We want to better connect government to the people,” continued Mr Thompson. “The IDB project will streamline Government procedures, making them available online, digitise government back office processes used by public officers and front office processes for the delivery of the service to the public, and increase the transparency of government activities and strengthen audit and control mechanisms - all in a secure environment. Government’s counterpart funding will include the preparation of the databases for interoperability, and the education and retraining of the public officer.”
Mr Thompson said the project is intended to create a single window facility; an electronic or mobile identification card with biometrics for security coupled with an electronic signature; interoperability for transporting data securely between the relevant agencies and the user or citizen; cybersecurity; and a once-only concept, where once one government agency has the information no other agency can ask for ownership of that data.
“This transformation will not be easy or without its challenges. It will require strong political will and require leadership by example,” said Mr Thompson. “Transformation through digitisation is neither an option nor a goal. It is essential and it is an ongoing process.”