Georgetown, Guyana (June 20, 2019) President David Granger, this morning, said Guyana is becoming a digital state geared at establishing a network of connectivity, linking every person, community and government agency in the entire country. The President made these statements in his feature address at the opening of the Centre for Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) at the University of Guyana’s (UG) Turkeyen Campus.
President Granger said becoming a digital state would see Guyana integrating more fully with the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
“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,” he said, noting that the establishment of the CEIT is a step in the right direction.
The Head of State also noted that a digital state can deploy ICT effectively to promote productivity and competitiveness noting that it is an implementation of technology to foster innovation and, consequently, economic growth.
“The digital state will deliver quality public services all over the country. It will reduce the need 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,” he said.
In this vein, the President noted that the establishment of capital towns in the ten administrative regions allows for the realization of ICT-enabled, one-stop Government centres which can provide public services. These centres, he said, 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 the public education system thereby improving educational attainment and allowing access to education by all, especially underserved, poor and remote populations. The educational value of the digital state can be encapsulated in the legend – “log on, look, listen and learn,” he said.
In order for the digital state to succeed, there is need for a reservoir of highly-trained persons to drive the development of the ICT sector. This 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,” President Granger said.
However, he recognised that the geographical and infrastructural challenges faced between the hinterland and coastland, reminding that residents have to travel long distances to access public services. The President also noted that Guyana, though the largest country in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), has the second lowest population density of about four persons per square kilometre.
“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 to overcome the challenges of our demography,” he asserted.
Guyana, President Granger, said lags far behind the rest of the Caribbean in terms of connectivity; is 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, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago; and enjoys less than one-third of the subscriptions in other Caribbean states in terms of fixed wire broadband.
Nonetheless, ICT revolution has started and according to the President, “Developments in the ICT sector, both planned and in progress, will allow us to close the digital divide between our coastland and 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,” he added, while noting that the digital state aims at establishing a network of connectivity, linking every person, community and government agency.
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 aimed at providing cost competitive connectivity options and to help to improve access to, and the delivery of, public services.
Thus far, broadband access has extended to a total of 116 Government ministries and agencies, nine 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,” President Granger said, adding that teachers have benefitted from the distribution of 8, 848 laptops under the One Laptop per Teacher programme.
Internet access, he said, has been provided through 171 internet hubs to residents in areas, including on the coastland and hinterland.
“ICT technologies are being modernized. The existing 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,” he said.
ICT, the Head of State said, 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; delivering government services online for citizens at home and in the diaspora; and 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,” he said.
The President noted that 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,” he asserted.
Moreover, the President said 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,” he posited.
The Head of State opined that 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 to drive the development of the digital state,” he stated while adding that the CEIT will have as its main thrust the provision of specialized ICT training and, in so doing, foster new careers and opportunities in the ICT sector.”
Meanwhile, President Granger expressed gratitude to the government of the Republic of India for its assistance in establishing the Centre and for its pledge of continued support.
“India is world leader in ICT. It possesses the experience and expertise to help Guyana to develop its ICT manpower. The Centre of Excellence is another example of India’s continuing support for Guyana’s development,” the President said, noting that the establishment of the Centre represents another milestone to add to the legacy of outgoing Indian High Commissioner to Guyana, His Excellency Venkatachalam Mahalingam.
“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 bountiful opportunities for students, workers and businesses,” President Granger said.
Minister of Public Telecommunications, Mrs. Catherine Hughes noted that the world is rapidly changing and technology is replacing all traditions. She said the public servants who will receive ICT advanced training at CEIT will be expected to keep Government’s online presence user-friendly and up to date.
“We expect them to use their knowledge of back end computer operations, which they will be taught here, to create more interactive portals for the public to use, more websites that are available and can be used by persons with disabilities. Please allow me to express my own gratitude to the Government of the Republic of India and for your invaluable support,” Minister Hughes said.
In response, High Commissioner Mahalingam said he is pleased to have participated in the formal inauguration of the Centre. The CEIT, he said, is the second Centre of Excellence in the entire Caribbean Region.