JIS News

The Government of Jamaica (GoJ) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) launched a US$23 million Information and Communication Technology (ICT) project on Wednesday (March 24) at the Knutsford Court Hotel.
The project, which is aimed at accelerating Jamaica’s e-government programme and provide a modern ICT sector to all Jamaicans, comprises four components and will be implemented over five years.
Keynote speaker at the launch, Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology, Phillip Paulwell, explained that through its first component, the project would give support to the Ministry in its role to increase the country’s e-readiness.
Under the project, personnel will be trained, he said, so that “a more informed and competent civil servant is available to provide government at your service. This includes not just training in ICT skills, but upgrading the knowledge of our legal fraternity regarding e-transactions and the issues which may arise”.
Mr. Paulwell further noted that the island’s courts and other judiciary must be prepared for the e-transaction cases which would come before them.
He informed that the Ministry would undertake a major standardization programme to ensure that every government website had similar traits that identified them as GoJ websites. These websites will look professional, be interactive and provide extensive information.
“The collaboration between ministries and agencies of government required to make this a reality is tremendous,” the Technology Minister remarked, adding, “the government is serious and determined to take the pain out of accessing services such as submission of documentation for imported goods, payment of customs duties, access to import and export licences, payment of taxes, access to trade and investment information.”
This suite of services, he pointed out, would be accessible from the comfort of ICT appliances including the Internet, phones and third party channels such as the post office through their connections with online agencies such as Paymaster.
Mr. Paulwell noted that the community access point component of the project would address concerns over whether the web-enabling of government services would leave those without access out of the loop. “This new level of customer service must be available to everyone. The support for community access points will facilitate persons in marginalized facilities to have access to clusters of computers. This is part of our approach to bridging the digital divide,” he assured. The mechanism for the selection of the communities and the placement of the computers will be managed by a private firm, and a board of governors which has already been approved by the IDB, will oversee this operation.
The web-enabling of the fiscal and trade agencies of government will require customer support, therefore, critical personnel such as programmers, web-developers, systems analysts and other ICT professionals are going to be required for the roll out of this project. “Training of Jamaicans in ICT is fundamental to the sustainability of the development of this sector,” Minister Paulwell stated, highlighting the fact that the human capital development component of the project would support the training of persons in specific information technology skills as the market demanded.
The project also proposes to provide scholarships to qualified candidates to complete ICT courses offered by the Caribbean Institute of Technology.
This GOJ/IDB ICT project comes at the culmination of government’s five- year strategic plan for ICT, which was promulgated in 1999 and which aims to use ICT as the path toward the creation of a knowledge-based society. This plan is to be enlarged to a 15-year plan, Mr. Paulwell disclosed.
In trying to bridge the digital divide, Jamaica has made remarkable leaps ahead, he pointed out, informing that at the time when the ICT plan was developed, Jamaica which was one of the lowest teledensity countries in the Caribbean and has evolved to become the highest teledensity country in the region. “Out of a population of 2.6 million people, we have two million subscribers of wireless and fixed services in Jamaica. That is by any account, tremendous progress in a short time,” he declared.
As a result of the liberalization of the telecommunications sector, Jamaica has seen significant inflows of foreign exchange amounting to over US$5 million. Minister Paulwell used the occasion to welcome the new addition of United States telecommunications company AT&T Wireless to the island’s telecommunications landscape. “There will be more investments, improvements in services and consumers will benefit from lower prices,” he stated.
He stressed that the Ministry was committed to the implementation of an ICT policy that emphasized e-governance, e-commerce and the use of ICT to drive the process of trade development and the generation of jobs.

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