Telecommunications and the Information Society Day will be celebrated on 17 May. To recognise this occasion, during the month of May, posts will be geared towards providing a snapshot of telecoms and ICT development in the region. We kick off the series by examining e-Government in the English-speaking Caribbean.
According to the World Bank, e-Government is the use of ICT by government agencies. Some of the objectives of e-Government are:
- to increase efficiency and productivity among and between government agencies
- to improve access to and the availability of pertinent information to citizens
- to provide avenues for the exchange of information and for execution of a broad range of transactions between government and businesses, and between government and individuals.
Since 2002, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) at the United Nations has been conducting a survey of e-Government development in its member countries. A key output of this assessment is the e-Government Development Index (EGDI), which provides an indication of the ability and willingness of national governments to use mobile and online technology to carry out some of its functions. The index signifies the performance of the participating countries relative to each other, and scores can range from a maximum of 1, to a minimum of 0. The EGDI comprises the following three indicators:
- Online Service Index – which examines the scope and quality of service offered by a cross-section of government websites
- Telecommunications Infrastructure Index – which examines telecoms connectivity with regard to fixed-line, mobile and Internet broadband subscriptions, along with Internet use and computer ownership
- Human Capital Index – which examines adult literacy and enrolment across all levels of the education system.
EDGI results for the English-speaking Caribbean
In the 2010 edition of the DESA survey, it was noted that e-Government in the Caribbean, as a sub-region, had improved since the last assessment. Figure 1 presents the EGDIs for English-speaking Caribbean countries that participated in the survey.
Among the selected countries, Barbados had the highest EGDI at 0.5714, and was ranked 40th out of the 183 countries assessed. It was followed by Antigua and Barbuda, ranked number 55 with an EGDI of 0.5154, and the Bahamas with an EGDI of 0.4871, which was number 65 on the list. The lowest ranked country of the group was Belize, at number 120, with an EGDI of 0.3513.
The DESA report noted that Barbados was the first country in the region to have an integrated single sign-on service for its national portal, meaning that site visitors had greater ease and flexibility when interacting with government online. The report also noted the use of social media on the national portal of Grenada, and a web-based procurement tool to facilitate online bids for government contracts on the Trinidad and Tobago web portal.
Literacy and enrolment rates in the region are relatively high. There was only a 0.07 difference in the Human Capital Index among the survey group. Hence the resulting EGDI for each of the countries was more significantly affected by the online service and telecommunications infrastructure indices.
Finally, of the three indices that comprise the EGDI, most countries received their lowest score for the Online Service Index. The exceptions were Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Belize, for which telecoms infrastructure was the most deficient area.
Implications of EGDI for Caribbean countries
With regard to the scope and quality of online services, a key reason for the poor results received in the region, is inadequate government network infrastructure. In most countries, comprehensive and integrated voice and data networks covering at the very least the main government agencies have not been deployed. Hence the communications networks of Caribbean governments would experience great difficulty in providing the broad range of online services, needed to improve their Online Services Index scoring.
In the next EDGI survey, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Index is expected to improve for all countries, since considerable attention is being given ICT and broadband access and development. In Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Belize, the liberalisation process began later than most of the other countries in the sample group. Further, they would have experienced certain challenges related to network build-out and coverage, due to terrain and population distribution considerations. Nevertheless, they should show marked improvement in all connectivity indicators in the next assessment.
Finally, it is emphasised that the full and successful implementation of e-Government services is inextricably affected by the digital divide that exists in all Caribbean countries. Government is the largest employer, and the largest procurer of goods and services. It is also the entity that all residents interact with at various points in their lives. Hence, in order for e-Government initiatives to be relevant and effective, at the very least, citizens must have access to adequate computing facilities. Access is one of the fundamental pillars to bridge the digital divide, but it must be supported by efforts to improve citizens’ standard of living to ensure that they are suitably equipped to embrace the services that are available. Thereafter, the scope and quality of the e-Government offerings deserve attention, to ensure that the needs and interests of key stakeholder groups (the individual, businesses and government) are included, and satisfied.