Attaining Digital Nation Status for Trinidad and Tobago

By: Senator The Honourable Hassel Bacchus  |   October 6th, 2021

Senator The Honourable Hassel Bacchus
Senator The Honourable Hassel Bacchus

In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, internet access and data sharing for business, administrative and social purposes are critical to removing barriers to facilitate transactions. COVID-19 has highlighted the fact that lack of access to ICT services prevents vulnerable groups from accessing online services or even performing basic activities. It was with this in mind, that Government felt that there existed a need for a Ministry to be charged solely with the responsibility for the development of a ‘Digital Nation’. As such, on July 12th, 2021, the Ministry of Digital Transformation was formed with a mandate to ensure that all citizens and residents are able to participate in a digital society and to have access to digital resources.

Digital Transformation has become increasingly important for many nations around the world, as many have embarked on strategies geared towards achieving enhanced economic vitality, robust social safety nets, along with efficient and fair governance. Digital Transformation requires a radical reframing of our thoughts; inclusive of how technology is leveraged in both the public and private sectors, the processes employed and the way in which we ascertain if they are indeed successful in positively changing the way we operate.

To transform digitally, we need to change culturally. Traditionally, governments have had limited reliance on the use of digital data in the decision-making process. However, what is being proposed now is an agile, iterative design, which focuses on user needs whilst tailoring government standards and processes with a substantial focus on data-driven decision-making. A digital government will focus on the use of open source solutions and the development of horizontal platform models, together with a flattened organisational structure and placing emphasis on delivery to citizens first. Critical to this achievement are three key stakeholders which include public officers, citizens and businesses.

Understanding the needs of the public service and more particularly, the needs of public officers are critical in ensuring a cultural shift. Having a clear digital strategy driven by effective leadership, enables successful digital transformation. Governments that focus on technologies and disregard organisational and cultural impacts are doomed to fail. As part of the Ministry’s digital strategy, we have embarked on several initiatives geared toward successful cultural change in order to enable digital public service delivery. These initiatives include:
• ICT Capacity Building – Government ICT Leadership Advisory Council (GILAC);
• Digital Literacy – Education Reform in Schools.
The Ministry’s digitisation strategy has identified five key steps which are needed to attain a ‘Digital Nation’. These steps include:-

  1. Deployment of basic IT infrastructure – This step is ongoing with Ministries looking at their infrastructure requirements, ensuring that they are in compliance with GORTT standards;
  2. Service Excellence – Ensuring resources and infrastructure are integrated with service delivery;
  3. A ‘Whole of Government’ approach – Integrated, citizen-centric services supported by efficient and open government. This approach promotes e-Citizen engagement and inclusion;
  4. Sector Development – Looking at growth in GDP as a result of adoption and usage of ICT through E-Trade, built on a knowledge-based society;
  5. Digital Nation – Technology-enabled nation. Single face of government with a minimum goal of 95% of all services available online.

Additionally, the Ministry is engaged in reviewing and developing digital-ready legislation intended to build trust in the system by ensuring the security of our citizens’ data. What we are looking at is legislation that supports and benefits the citizens of a digital society, whilst fostering Digital Transformation. At present, we have engaged the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for further technical assistance in this area. 

In the coming months, the Ministry will be rolling out various projects that are all intended to ensure digital inclusion. We have already removed taxes on mobile and digital equipment, mobile phones, specific software and computer accessories. Additionally, we have partnered with Government bodies to provide devices to students in need, along with donating to at-risk groups such as the visually impaired. We are currently looking into the provision of an additional spectrum of ICT services in Trinidad and Tobago, that will be free to use for citizens through an arrangement with Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT). Moreover, the Ministry will also continue with the provision of free public Wi-Fi through the TTWiFi project which is available in several public spaces and high traffic areas. Added to this, citizens can also access ICT training opportunities and enjoy internet connectivity in several rural communities nationwide as a result of the provision of community-based ICT centres known as Access TT Centres. The Ministry anticipates that it will have at least eight (8) new ICT centres available to the public before the end of 2021 and another ten (10) centres in 2022. 

As we continue to proliferate the avenues for digital inclusion, it is our hope that we will see an increase in the growth of our micro, small, medium and large enterprises in Trinidad and Tobago. This we believe will be supported in the near future through the use of several e-channels which will be leveraged to greater effect in a more facilitative ICT environment. Furthermore, the Ministry will also be placing focus on strengthening the digital ecosystem by updating our governance frameworks through amendments to the Cybercrime Bill and the Consumer Protection legislation.