BitDepth 744 - August 17

At a stakeholder consultation, Singapore professionals gather information for a national ICT plan.
Singapore to set the T&T tech pace

Young Chye Loh, IDA International programme director (centre) with stakeholders at a consultation on the National ICT plan on August 07 at NALIS. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

At a recent stakeholder consultation, it was clear that the new national Information and Communications Technology (ICT) plan for Trinidad and Tobago is likely to be guided, or at the very least, influenced by specialist consultants from Singapore.
That shouldn’t necessarily be construed as a bad thing, this country’s recent experiences with Asian involvement in the construction sector notwithstanding. 

The port driven island republic made a commitment long ago to leveraging its market potential by investing in technology infrastructure. IDA International, the consulting agency (an execution arm, apparently, of the public service) conducting the exercise to develop the ICT plan that will underpin Trinidad and Tobago’s next phase of technology development is likely to have some valuable experience in lubricating bureaucratic process.

At a recent stakeholder consultation, IDA representatives shared the way that the fourth “pillar” of the People’s Partnership’s sustainable development plan will be implemented. The relevant sector the Government’s sustainable development plan, “ICT: Connecting Trinidad and Tobago and building the new economy,” was subdivided into two parts, fostering a creative e-ready generation and bridging the digital divide.
Each of those sectors of development was further subdivided again for the consideration of the group. 

The creative e-ready generation would be arrived at through “ICT enriched learning,” and “creating and promoting local digital content.”
The digital divide would be bridged by the provision of “accessible and affordable ICT services for digital inclusion” and the promotion of “media literacy and online protection.”
Needless to say, these rather fuzzy directives, on which the stakeholders present were expected to offer guidance, ideas and plans, were dissected with some venom and scepticism.

At least part of it, if I read the mood of the room correctly, was because of the perception that the first phase of the Government’s ICT development plan had been an expensive and thorough disaster at meeting anything that looked vaguely like a goal or benchmark.
This column has railed in the past at the Ministry of Public Administration’s enthusiasm for claiming the results of vigorous competition among local ISPs, specifically bMobile and Flow, as part of the master strategy of the alleged Fast Forward initiative.

Explanations for the spending, on record, of more than $85 million in taxpayer funds have not been forthcoming beyond the public trumpeting of a basic website for government services and wireless touchscreen kiosks for accessing them.
At the recent stakeholder consultation IDA’s representatives seemed focused on their mission, leading unproductive discussions out of the mire of old arguments and irritations toward project solutions and recommendations.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the Singapore consultants present to the Government at the end of September. Their project planning began in April, and they have already completed an evaluation of the first Fast Forward development initiative that’s still to be presented to Cabinet. It is to be hoped that public scrutiny of the document will follow soon afterward.

Intriguingly, IDA kept referring to the launch of the “next five year ICT plan” in February 2011. Given that former Minister of Public Administration launched Fast Forward II almost a year ago, it raises the question of what happened in the interim, during what may come to be known as Fast Forward 1.5, and more compellingly, why a second five-year plan wasn’t ready for implementation directly after the conclusion of the first one.
Such concerns speak to matters of common sense rather than the common good, and we are where we are.

What’s interesting is that the IDA group leaders at that stakeholder meeting seemed, despite their respectful and delicate navigation of English, to be particularly adept at keeping ICT issues at a dignified remove from politics and sticking to the kind of principles that get things done. That’s certainly something that government level planning for ICT could do with more of.
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