Sunday 5 July, 2020

AMCHAM T&T advocates for acceleration of digital Gov't

The American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) has continued in its efforts to push the digital transformation agenda forward within the private and public sectors.

That’s the premise behind the Chamber’s recently launched “Coffee Shop Conversation” series on the topic: Accelerating the Digital Government.  

AMCHAM T&T has been advocating a transformation of Government to a digitally-enabled government for several years.

It believes that this will result in greater efficiency, improved services, better accessibility of public services and more transparency and accountability within government.  

Three of AMCHAM T&T’s main recommendations are: the implementation of a Unique National Identification Number; accelerating the adoption of e-payment for Government services and acceptance of digital signatures.

AMCHAM T&T CEO Nirad Tewarie complimented the Government for implementing e-payment for some services such as payment of taxes at the BIR and the acceptance of the need for the Unique National Identification number.

However, he said companies are unable to pay their quarterly taxes online despite the BIR being able to facilitate online payments for personal income tax.  

Tewarie said: “There are two types of people. Those who see a solution for every problem and those who see a problem for every solution. COVID 19 has shown us that we have to be the solution seekers. There is nothing but lack of will preventing the implementation of a Unique National Identifier, acceptance of esignatures for government transactions, e-payments across ministries and government agencies, a fully computerised Customs entry system and open data."

“We have been talking about these things for too long while our ease of doing business has been falling. Sure, there a million reasons we can hide behind to say “why?” but let's be the people who say, "why not?" and then go make it happen!”  

Vashti Maharaj, Director of Legal Services at the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs said recent amendments to various laws to digitise public services at the Court, Registrar General’s Department and Intellectual Property Office will give momentum to digitisation across government.  

Maharaj said: “The amendments to recent laws to digitise certain government services will lay the foundation for other dynamic and innovative initiatives such as the use of a unique personal identification number across government to access services as well as the launch of the national e-money policy that will pave the way for the use of digital wallets and encourage the development of a burgeoning Fintech economy within Trinidad and Tobago.”

Glynis Alexander-Tam, former Chair of the e-Business Roundtable and CEO of Info Link Services Limited said there needs to be a common-sense approach of accelerating the government’s ICT plan particularly with the impact of COVID-19. She argued the digitisation approach must be collaborative and should not reinvent the wheel on what already exists within the private sector. 

She said: “There are large companies that have digitised a lot of their services across the board. Government should, in fact, be engaging private sector companies to see what has been done before and where information can be leveraged, and partnerships developed to push some of that digitisation process into the market space. Because what we are talking about is not only work “SMART” but also working smarter.”

Kirk Henry, CEO of iGovTT also participated in the event and indicated that the current environment of a global pandemic emphasises the need to move services online by preparing the supporting infrastructure in a manner that is sustainable and secure.

Henry said: “This involves around managing risk associated with implementation to ensure availability of the system, to ensure accuracy in terms of processing the data that is captured, the agility to quickly respond and rollout solutions and finally accessibility.”

“We want to ensure the systems and the services that we digitise, provide and present in an online fashion is handled in such a way that the right people have access to it and we are always mindful of the bad actors who are attempting to subvert the process.”  

AMCHAM T&T is of the view that the aim should be for the entire population to fully benefit from the digitalisation of these services which would require digital inclusion policies to address digital literacy, access to ICT and enabling the digital workplace.

The Chamber said the gaps need to be closed in ICT availability, affordability, and adoption for a large cross-section in society, through public and private sector policies and initiatives.  

The “Accelerating The Digital Government” is the first part of AMCHAM T&T’s “Coffee Shop Conversation” series designed by AMCHAM T&T’s Digital Transformation Committee.

The webinar is sponsored by Republic Bank, PwC, Digicel and Digital Media partner, Trend Media.

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