JIS News

The Government’s information and communication technology (ICT) project, which aims to transform the way business is done in Jamaica, has been designed to facilitate growth in the economy. It was initiated against the background that a well developed ICT infrastructure can fast track the economy along the information super-highway.
The project, which began officially with the signing of a US$17 million loan agreement between the Government of Jamaica and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in June this year, approaches this task in a four-pronged manner. Government and beneficiaries under the programme are expected to fund the remainder of the US$23 million operation.
The four approaches include strengthening the Ministry of Commerce, Science and Technology; training; establishing community access points and developing electronic (e)-government.
The strengthening of the Ministry of Commerce, Science and Technology was the first order of business to effectively deliver project management services. As such, a Project Executing Unit was established within the Ministry while operations at the Central Information Technology Office (CITO), an agency of the Ministry, were enhanced to assist in harmonising computer systems within Government.
“There are many disparate systems [in government] with everyone going in their various directions and putting various systems in place,” Project Manager, Richard Gordon, tells JIS News. He says that CITO will be helping to harmonise these so that different government ministries and agencies may collaborate and share common data to facilitate greater efficiency in the delivery of government services.
“There are lots of common data in various areas within ministries which each one may find useful. Therefore, we want to make sure that such data become available,” the Project Manager says.
The move will also aid in facilitating the e-government aspect of the project, whereby a number of government ministries and agencies will provide services to the public online. In addition, systems will be updated to allow employers to pay statutory deductions such as the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), HEART and Pay As You Earn (PAYE), online.
“The underlying principle of the e-government thrust is that all the systems will be web-enabled so that once you have access to the Internet, you will have access to all the government services,” Mr. Gordon explains.
He adds that the different aspects of the government’s ICT project interconnect with each other to ensure a structured and integrated approach to the development of Jamaica’s ICT infrastructure.
As such, another aspect of the programme, that is, the training of persons in computer programming and web design, will prepare persons to assist government ministries and agencies in the development of their websites as part of their scholarship programme.
Approximately 1000 such persons are to receive training under the project through partially funded scholarships. Mr. Gordon points out that HEART Trust/NTA and the Caribbean Institute of Technology (CIT) will begin advertising for applicants to take up these scholarships.
An extension of the electronic-government thrust is the electronic-trade facilitation programme.
Trade agencies such as Jamaica Customs, the Trade Board and JAMPRO are aiming to computerise their services so that import and export transactions may be carried out electronically. “Presently, Brokers are able to submit their entries online to Customs and pay Custom duties [electronically]”, Mr. Gordon points out.
He adds that within a month or so the Trade Board will be online to allow persons to apply and pay for their trade licences over the Internet. “Those licences will then be available to the Customs Officers online, so that if you want to import a car and you already have a (import) licence issued by the Trade Board, the Customs Officer can see [your] licence online”, the Project Manager explains. “The aim is to move towards a virtually paperless import certification and transaction [process],” he adds.
The e-trade project will also make exports easier by putting most of the services of JAMPRO online. Mr. Gordon says that JAMPRO plays a significant role in providing certification for exporters who wish to sell their products abroad. According to him, the process of providing certification used to be done manually and the exporter may need to visit several offices to obtain other forms of certification.
“What we want to do is to have every exporter registered, so he is already online. [Therefore], if he wants to get a particular certification, he can apply online and his business process reviewed, probably by the Bureau of Standards. That agency would then give clearance to say that the exporter conforms to the ISO 9000 standard,” Mr. Gordon explains. He adds that this step in the process of obtaining export certification will be done electronically as well.
“What we want to do is to move almost all steps to an electronic form so that every agency who is to certify ‘John Brown and Company’ for export will do the certification online so that when he is to ship his product, Customs, which is to permit the item to leave the country, will see all the certification online and grant him his export permit,” he points out.
According to Mr. Gordon, a launch of the JAMPRO online certification service will take place soon. The system is being designed by Fiscal Services Limited, which is also assisting many other government agencies to put their services online.
Of importance to the development of electronic-commerce is the recognition of the use of electronic-signatures in effecting transactions. Electronic signatures are unique identifiable symbols, codes or hidden files that allow a recipient to recognise a document as coming from a particular source. E-signatures may also involve an encryption system where persons can send and receive files that are encrypted and require a key to open them.
Mr. Gordon points out that the Trade Board will be mandated to administer a Public Key Encryption on behalf of government to authenticate various companies and individuals using electronic signatures for e-transactions.
Companies and individuals will be given a key to allow electronic payments to take place. It will authenticate an organisation as having a secure system that can facilitate commercial transactions.
Legislation, such as the Electronic Transaction Act is currently being examined and developed to give legitimacy to various aspects of electronic commerce and to establish a framework within which the ICT sector will operate.
The GOJ/IDB ICT project also aims to extend the services of government even to the far reaches of remote villages in Jamaica. Consequently, the project aims to widen the scope for persons accessing the Internet by creating Community Access Points. Sixty such centres are slated for development under the project, and according to Mr. Gordon, the Ministry is currently preparing the bidding document to select a company to establish these points.
In the meantime, he points out that consultants have been working on the detailed operational aspects of how the access points would work and obtaining best practices from other successful projects implemented by private donor groups in some schools and communities.
“The aim [in establishing community access points] is to bridge the digital divide,” the Project Manager says. He explains that the concept is to put computer clusters in various areas, beginning with communities of over 3,000 persons and eventually into smaller districts. The goal, he said, is to “roll out at least 15 such systems each year”.
The project will also help to invigorate the post office system by establishing many of these access points at post offices. Persons who work at these offices will also receive training to help them to effectively deliver government services online to rural communities.
“So if you want to go to the post offices and pay taxes or fill out certain forms (and) if you want to apply for certain government services, then you would be able to do so, and ultimately, you would be able to get certain certified copies of government documents issued to you from those areas,” Mr. Gordon explains.
Additionally, community access points will allow students in remote areas to go online and do research and will also facilitate the introduction of distant learning programmes to these communities. According to Mr. Gordon, “the universities are looking at expanding their distant learning programmes in that regard and we are in dialogue with them to make their training material available”. The CIT is aiming to have distant learning programmes online by 2004.
An aspect of the training component under the project will include the training of persons to manage and operate the community access points.
Mr. Gordon notes that persons will be trained in management, entrepreneurship, and accounting and in various aspects of computer operation. The aim is to get the community directly involved and to take charge of the centres and make them profitable.
Mr. Gordon adds that the ICT project will help to improve Jamaica’s e-readiness status and to make us more competitive in the global environment. Greater access to technology, he says will allow our farmers to market their produce more effectively by enabling them to interact readily with buyers over the Internet or by using their cellular phones.
According to Mr. Gordon, “ICT is a tremendous embryo, and if we create the right environment for it to be spawned, it can result in a tremendous turn around in what we do”. He adds, [We are] building an information highway to bring people together, so that they can bring commerce together and spin the economy up”.

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