Trinidad and Tobago's push to improve e-government still has some way to go

The authorities in Trinidad and Tobago are taking steps to develop the country’s potential for e-government. State agency iGovTT was established to improve public sector connectivity and promote increased online transactions in government business. iGovTT reports to the Ministry of Science and Technology, and acts both as the ministry’s implementation arm and as an ICT consulting and client-facing unit for the whole government.

Ranking Slip

The government closely monitors a number of international ICT performance rankings, and in 2014 the country slipped to 91st in the world in the e-Government Development Index compiled by the UN Public Administration Country Studies. This was 24 places down from the 67th position it achieved in the last survey, in 2012.

So as to correct this, the agency has several immediate e-service initiatives. These include the online filing and payment of taxes, the provision of birth certificates online, which will be a first step before moving on to death and marriage certificates; national insurance data online; an e-appointments service; and a single sign-on (SSO) for all citizens to access government services. Implementation of SSO is a crucial step in the viability of e-government services. It is also a technically challenging task, given that it requires the creation of a single registry hub that will have a secure database of names, addresses, usernames and passwords. It must also meet data protection requirements and protocols.

Government 3.0

Also on the technical side, iGovTT is involved in trying to encourage the different ministries and agencies to utilise the common platform and services established by government for the deployment of their ICT systems. “The current wide-area network or government backbone – called Government 2.0 – provides the core infrastructure that interconnects all ministries and agencies as well as secure services such as emails, internet access and voice over the internet protocol,” Selvon Ramroop, iGovTT’s deputy CEO, told OBG.

“Fujitsu has been providing the data network and the government majority-owned Telecommunications Services of T&T has been providing the wide-area network. We have issued the request for proposals for Government 3.0, which is an enhanced version of Government 2.0 that caters for a cloud computing environment and enhanced service delivery. We intend to commence deployment of this new infrastructure by the third quarter of 2015.”

An executive for Fujitsu’s Central American and Caribbean region, Jean-Paul Dookie, told OBG, “This has been going on for 10 years – iGovTT and the whole concept of shared services has been going on across administrations, so they see value in it.”

Awareness

More generally, the Ministry of Science and Technology along with iGovTT is involved in various programmes to raise ICT awareness. These include running a network of community access centres through a programme known as Star.tt Access Centres, which is designed to promote digital inclusion. The centres are focused on remote and “low-digital access” areas. “These access centres provide training – for example, we can have a local fishing community access information over the internet to help their business, as well as enable growth and development through the use of the training facility. The ministry also offers a programme called ICT for seniors, which attempts to expose senior citizens to utilise more ICT in their everyday lives. Everyone is very passionate about this program as it certainly bridges the digital divide,” Ramroop told OBG.

Sew Exciting

The authorities have also pursued the concept of a single electronic window (SEW) for government-related transactions. The UN defines the SEW as “a facility that allows parties involved in trade and transport to lodge standardised information and documents with a single entry point, to fulfil all import, export, and transit-related regulatory requirements. If information is electronic, then individual data elements should only be submitted once.”

While most projects of this nature worldwide are principally trade-related, T&T’s government is seeking to incorporate business and investment activities into the concept. Randall Karim, the director of policy and strategy at the Ministry of Trade, Industry, Investment and Communications, told OBG, “Until 2014 the process for carrying out trade was hugely time-consuming. There were all sorts of physical forms that needed to be filled in and submitted to six separate government agencies. We have made phenomenal progress in the ease of doing business, largely because of the SEW.”

One of the contractors hired to execute the project is the Singaporean government-linked firm CrimsonLogic. “TTBizLink aims to make it easier to invest in T&T, to facilitate business processes and to build an efficient trading regime,” Siddharth Priyesh, the company’s regional manager, told OBG. “This is achieved through e-services for fiscal incentives, import duty concessions, company registration, work permits, National Insurance Board registration and value-added tax registration.” There are also modules on goods declaration, import and export permits, licences and certificates of origin to facilitate international trade. This will help grow TTBizLink as a platform for government-to-business interactions.

E-Platforms

In January 2015 Priyesh estimated that by May the project would have linked together nine ministries and 25 state agencies, and would be providing 46 e-services on the platform. “T&T now has one of the most comprehensive e-business platforms in the world,” he said. CrimsonLogic has implemented SEW projects in 14 countries, and the T&T version is perhaps the most broad-based. “We are continuing to introduce e-services and agencies onto TTBizLink,” he said. The project also involved a degree of business process re-engineering. “The single biggest challenge was the lack of an e-payments gateway connected to all local banks, which has meant that making online payments to government departments has been difficult,” Priyesh told OBG. The need for multiple visits was also eliminated, by merging the fee payment and certificate collection into one step at the very end of the process.

This has allowed the Companies Registry to reduce the time it takes to process applications while increasing throughput. Managing the transition from paperbased to online processes can be complex, and CrimsonLogic understood the value of appropriately incentivising people for the move. When the e-visa regime was launched in Singapore, users initially had a choice between a paper-based or online application for a social visit visa. The paper-based process took several weeks, while the online process was run more efficiently, taking less than a week.

Coalition of the Willing

Asked whether some ministries had resisted the move from physical to online processes, Karim told OBG, “Yes, some have held back, but our approach has been to go for a ‘coalition of the willing’. Because of the successes, agencies that were initially reticent are now asking to join in with the process. We have pushed things so that there is now a three-to-one ratio in some areas, with 75% of services being transacted online and 25% remaining paper-based offline processes.”

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The Report: Trinidad & Tobago 2015

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