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Port-of-Spain

In a country where several businesses still do not allow for LINX transactions, Finance Minister Colm Imbert raised a few eyebrows recently when he gave a target for Trinidad and Tobago to become a cashless society.

“So we set ourselves quite an ambitious timeline. So by the end of December 2022, we must have achieved most if not all of the assignments we have set for ourselves,” said Imbert during the United Nations in Trinidad and Tobago Big Data Forum.

He said, “A national identity for citizens, cashless transactions for most, if not all of the public service, and public access to data when ensuring privacy. So that’s the timeline in the next year.”

December 22 is exactly 12 months away. In May, then Minister of Digital Transformation Allyson West lamented the slow progress the Ministry had made since it was formed following the 2020 General Election.

She said the delays were partially hurt, and partially aided, by lockdown restrictions but it was also stymied by the lack of synchronisation and co-operation between Ministries towards the goal.

West was moved on to the Ministry of Public Administration two months after that, with Senator Hassel Bacchus taking control of the Ministry.

Minister Imbert’s target would suggest that significant progress has been made since then.

The Digital Tranformation Ministry, in an emailed response to questions from the Sunday Business Guardian, explained potential strategies to meet the challenge.

According to officials from the Ministry of Digital Transformation, “The roadmap to achieve that vision will leverage the current capabilities.”

The Ministry stated a plan of attack which will target five key ministries and government agencies which they explained, “meet the criteria for this transition, including the volume of transactions they conduct, and therefore will have a major customer impact.”

These Ministries and Government agencies are:

• Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago

• Ministry of Attorney General and Legal Affairs—Registrar General and Intellectual Property Office

• Customs and Excise Division

• Inland Revenue

• Ministry of Works and Transport–Licensing Division

The officials from the Ministry of Digital Transformation said their work on these agencies would inform their approach “to accelerate rollout to other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies.”

“The ultimate goal is end-to-end consumption and delivery of goods and services—a deliberate movement away from the silo approach where one transaction means several interactions with various government offices for a citizen. To this end, quite a few projects are well underway, in the spirit of collaboration with various public sector stakeholders,” said officials from the Ministry of Digital transformation.

The plan will also include the selection of a new E-Identity Solution for the public to enable a new interoperability framework for providing e-services as well as improvement in the systems that support the operations of government, such as the Government Network that connects Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and the GovPayTT system, which is set to support aspects of electronic payments.

The Ministry official said, “In the coming year we will launch an expanded and strengthened GovPayTT system as well as a more resilient and enhanced Gov.Nett Service.”

There are also plans to collaborate with Ministry of Health on a new National Health Information System as well as creating a similar system for the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services on a new Social Services Management Information System to improve the administration of these services to vulnerable citizens.

The Ministry told the Business Guard that the digital transformation agenda will focus on three pillars: Digital Society; Digital Government and Digital Economy, and each of these have several priority projects.

The Digital Society pillar will focus on the Improvement of the TT TravelPass.

The Ministry official said, “After contributing to its (TT TravelPass) development, we have reviewed it over the past few months, and based on our findings we are working to improve the citizen experience and to streamline its operations.”

It was also confirmed that a review of the six operational ICT Access Centres was conducted, with assigned project teams visiting each Centre, meeting with Access Centre staff, and having begun to address and resolve operational issues.

This will be combined, the officials said, with the establishment and implementation of additional Access Centres. The Ministry also confirmed a partnership with the Adult Literacy Tutors Association (ALTA), to offer online literacy training at its Access Centres.

The ALTA partnership is currently being piloted at the Todd’s Road Centre and is expected to be rolled out to other communities in the next year.

Minister Imbert also spoke of the TTWifi initiative in his presentation at the Big Data forum, as he noted the need for greater access to ramp up the digital transformation of the country.

He said, “Enhancing ICT digital transformation, the collection and use of data analytics to drive decision making, such as increasing ICT access and closing the digital divide, this has been driven by our investment in education and technology infrastructure. We have introduced TT WiFi, which will continue to provide free broadband access in highly populated and frequented areas, such as transport hubs, hospital waiting rooms, libraries, schools. ICT access centres across the country are to be increased from six to 50.”

The Ministry of Digital Transformation confirmed this was underway, but also pointed out work was being done on the development of the concept of Connected Communities.

The officials said, “We are in the process of building an implementation framework for accelerating its establishment beginning with the borough of Arima. We are selecting digital technology and solutions which will improve citizen experiences in interacting with government and in their normal day-to-day activities.”

The aim of this approach, would be transition of Arima into a digital community by the year 2025.

The Ministry stated it had met with the Arima MP and Mayor and agreed on the concept and what it would deliver, and are currently identifying the apps to place under this initiative.

The Ministry also began discussions with the IDB seeking its support for this initiative, and will be engaging the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government to formally initiate the programme.

The Ministry is working to bring broadband connectivity to 10 underserved areas, including Moruga, Mayaro and Charlotteville.

According to the Ministry of Digital Transformation through the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago TATT it is progressing this deployment in Brasso Venado (including Los Atajos) and St John’s Parish in Tobago.

The Ministry is also using data compiled from a Data Survey which it is hoped, will allow it to develop improved data sharing strategies amongst MDAs with the objective of improving service delivery and the ease of doing business.

The Ministry is also planning collaboration with the IDB on the design of its Developers Hub and the start of current state assessment which will underpin the development of its 2023 to 2028 National Digital Plan with the assistance and support of the UNDP.

The officials stated there were plans to engage with the IDB to help shape and fund its new digital initiatives with the support of their international experts.