Guyana…the digital state

Ladies and gentlemen, imagine a country in which children are educated in smart classrooms that are equipped with projectors and white boards and screens instead of blackboards and chalk, and in my days, slates and slate pencils with common pens. I don’t think people know what common pens are anymore.

Imagine a country in which children record their notes on tablets on which they can download, retrieve and store information at the click of mouse instead of in exercise books.

Imagine a country with teachers who can teach two classrooms simultaneously – one in Corriverton on the Corentyne and the other in the Karasabai in the Rupununi.

Imagine a patient in Hopetown being able to send medical tests results for interpretation across long distances or consulting with a specialist doctor in Georgetown, via the use of ICT.

Imagine the police on the Brazilian border utilizing ICT to better map crime and match fingerprints electronically with his colleagues on our notorious back track routes on the Suriname border or retrieves data from a more comprehensive database or drones being used for the surveillance of frontier communities and along the coastland.

Imagine our farmers and small manufacturers using the worldwide web to advertise their goods and services and securing markets via the information superhighway.

Imagine young people getting more jobs through the expansion of business processing outsourcing (BPO).

Ladies and gentlemen, these are not wild imaginations. These are actualities in today’s world. I said last year – in addressing the Caribbean ICT Roadshow hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and the Ministry of Public Telecommunication – that “… the digital revolution has transformed the way in which citizens communicate with the state and with one another. The revolution is worldwide in scale, comprehensive in capacity and phenomenal at the speed at which it is growing.”

The digital revolution is transforming communities, transforming our country, it is transforming the Caribbean. It has the possibility of creating myriad new opportunities and augmenting the delivery of public services.

Digital state
Guyana is becoming a digital state. A digital state aims at establishing a network of connectivity, linking every person, every community and every government agency in the entire country. It will integrate Guyana, more fully, with the Caribbean. It will integrate the coastland with the hinterland. It will integrate every neighbourhood with the region. It will integrate every region with the centre.

The digital state, by applying ICT to add value to our production and service sectors, will trigger economic transformation. It will spawn knowledge-based industries, diversify the economy away from overdependence on primary production, move manufacturing up the value chain and tap into larger external markets.

The digital state can deploy ICT effectively to promote productivity and competitiveness. It is an implementation of technology which will foster innovation and, consequently, economic growth.

The digital state will deliver quality public services all over the country. It will reduce the need, as the Minister has said, for citizens to travel outside of their regions of residence, in years to come, to access legal services, acquire passports, examine their academic and medical records, record births and deaths, receive social security benefits, register businesses, renew drivers’ licences, file income-tax returns and embark on trade and investment enterprises.

The establishment of capital towns in our ten administrative regions will allow for the realization of ICT-enabled, one-stop government centres which can provide public services. These centres would minimize the need for citizens to visit multiple government agencies to complete a single transaction.

The digital state will revolutionise the delivery of education, including distance education, by introducing technology-based teaching into our public education system thereby improving education attainment and allowing access to education by all, especially underserved, poor and remote populations. As you know, our Government places emphasis on ‘A’ students; students who have access and who can achieve a higher level of attainment at school.

The educational value of the digital state can be encapsulated in the legend – “log on, look, listen and learn.”

The digital state, in order to succeed however, requires a reservoir of highly- trained persons to drive the development of the ICT sector. It requires persons who possess ICT skills to lay the foundation for the establishment of knowledge-based industries.

The digital state demands a reorientation of our education system towards greater emphasis on science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM). ICT and STEM education will allow Guyana to develop a more a technologically competent workforce.

Digital divide
Guyana, suffering from inequality along the lines of geography and infrastructural development, has peculiar challenges for ICT development. Many hinterland and some rural communities are isolated and lack adequate infrastructure. The residents of these communities have to travel long distances to access public services. In fact, incredibly, you may not believe that before we entered office if you were a businessman in Lethem, you had to travel to Anna Regina to register your business.

Ladies and gentlemen, Guyana is the largest state in the Caribbean Community but has the second lowest population density of about 4 persons per square kilometre, compared to 660 persons per square kilometre, in Barbados.

Scores of sparsely populated settlements of relatively few residents are scattered over vast distances which are likely to be divided by rivers, forest, grasslands and wetland. Robust communication networks are required, are necessary, to overcome the challenges of our demography and geography.

Ladies and gentlemen, sadly, although we are changing things, Guyana still lags far behind the rest of the Caribbean in terms of connectivity.

Guyana is still ranked 117 out of 193 countries with only 36 per cent of citizens using the Internet, a rate that is half that in The Bahamas, of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

Guyana still enjoys less than one-third of the subscriptions in other Caribbean states in terms of fixed wire broadband.

These facts or factoids don’t make me happy. What makes me happy is that Catherine Hughes is closing the gap.

ICT revolution
Ladies and gentlemen the ICT revolution has started. Developments in the ICT sector, both planned and in progress, will allow us to close the digital divide between our coastland and the hinterland and between Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean.

The smart phone is now ubiquitous; tablets are now being used for education and entertainment; the transmission of information has increased exponentially; the Internet is connecting people, businesses and societies across the country, across the Region and across the globe. My words, here today, I’m sure, are being transmitted instantaneously within and outside the country and community.

Ladies and gentlemen, the digital state that we’re creating will establish a network of connectivity, linking every person, community and every government agency and ministry. It will ensure that residents of Mabaruma for example, will not be isolated from residents of Mahdia.

Broadband access is being rolled out to hinterland and remote rural communities with the aim of promoting greater integration of the entire country. Increased broadband access is intended also to provide cost competitive connectivity options and to help to improve access to, and the delivery of, public services.

Broadband access has extended to a total of 116 government agencies and ministries, 9 student dormitories and hostels and three nursing schools with the aim of increasing citizen engagement and promoting inclusion and social development.

Every court house, every hospital, every police station, every post office, every school and government building, eventually, will enjoy internet access. We have connected over 175 primary schools and 106 secondary schools and 34 technical and vocational institutions to support remote-access learning and online research to help students with their academic assignments and homework. Teachers have benefitted from the distribution of 8, 848 laptops under the One Laptop per Teacher programme.

Internet access has been provided through 171 internet hubs to residents in areas, including on the coastland and hinterland.

ICT technologies are being modernized. The existence of 4G Long-term Evolution (LTE) Wireless Network is being improved and expanded through the installation of more than 250 km of fibre optic cables on the coast and 120 Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSAT) in hinterland and remote communities. ICT will improve the delivery of public services by:

– expanding the coverage of the e-government network to better support the day-to-day functioning of state agencies, departments and ministries;
– by extending government services online for citizens at home and in the diaspora; and by
– maintaining a one-stop portal for government information and services.

Technology parks will be established to boost job creation. These parks will allow for the development of clusters of technology firms, including ICT start-ups and business outsourcing companies.

ICT plays a central role in Guyana’s Green State Development Strategy (GSDS) by reducing our carbon footprint. ICT must drive the establishment of paperless agencies, departments and ministries. It must promote greater use of non-cash financial instruments. E-government must make public services more accessible; e-business must facilitate commerce, investment and trade.

ICT is a functional and practical response to the challenge of the digital deficit in Guyana. It will promote greater inclusion and innovation and provide information services and digital industries consistent with the Green State Development Strategy. By any measure, this initiative must be allowed to continue over the next five years.

Centre for Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT)
Ladies and gentlemen, this Centre for Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) is a step in the right direction. The digital state will falter unless it benefits from an adequate number of persons trained in ICT.

The establishment of this Centre of Excellence is a step on the path towards building the human resource capacity that drives the development of the digital state.

The CEIT will have as its main thrust the provision of specialized ICT training and, in so doing, foster new careers and provide greater opportunities in the ICT sector.

At this stage, I must iterate the gratitude of the Government of Guyana to the Republic of India for its assistance in establishing this Centre and for its pledge of continued support. India is a world leader in ICT. It possesses the experience and expertise to help Guyana to develop its ICT manpower.

The CEIT is another example of India’s continuing support for Guyana’s development.

Ladies and gentlemen on the 5th May 2015, our national Arrival Day, I delivered an address at Palmyra, at the unveiling ceremony to commemorate Indian immigration to Guyana. I said then that the Monument will remind us always not only of the friendship between India and Guyana but of the legacy of the outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, His Excellency Venkatachalam Mahalingam. This Centre of Excellence is also part of that legacy.

This Centre will allow us to become more agile in the ICT sector. It is a prerequisite for a technologically-literate and digitally-skilled society. It is central to the development of the skills and knowledge necessary to realize the digital state, which will unlock the bountiful opportunities for students, for workers and for businesses.

I congratulate those involved in the establishment of this Centre and I thank you.

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