Long lines and slow transaction processes at state offices may soon be a thing of the past as government prepares to invest millions into a digital transformation initiative that will usher in the conveniences of e-governance.
“Budget 2022 allocates $10.8 million to the Caribbean Digital Transformation Project, as a precursor to over $50 million in expenditure over the 2023-24 period. The entire project is designed to enable digital government, digitise specific priority services, fill infrastructural gaps and place citizens at the centre of the transformation process,” finance minister, Camillo Gonsalves said during his Budget Address on Monday. “We intend that the benefits of this digital transformation will be tangible and felt to the average Vincentian in ways that will improve how they do business, access information, and interact with the Government.”
The Digital Transformation project is a regional US$94 million project involving the OECS Secretariat, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is structured to create a digital enabling environment; build digital government infrastructure, platforms and services; and enable digital skills and technology adoption.
And the finance minister said that his government’s belief in the potential of this project is such that they are investing US$30 million into it — the largest allocation among the participating countries.
For the average Vincentian, a digital transformation will manifest itself in several ways.
“It means that you will be able to search land titles and register deeds digitally and affordably. It means that businesses will seamlessly pay for and clear imported goods through a technologically enhanced customs process. It means that e-Payment and e-Taxes will become a practical reality. It means that Vincentians will be able to interact with their government digitally, through a single e-Government portal, to register births and deaths, receive copies of official documents like birth certificates or deeds, report problems or lodge complaints, renew passports and driver’s licences, pay taxes and fines, and have personal data securely linked to a unique, individual ID number,” Gonsalves said.
In 2022, the government will begin the multi-year digital transformation with a number of steps.
For land titling, this will include the purchasing of cadastral survey equipment, developing a parcel-based land information system and completing the digitisation of old paper deeds.
The Customs process will also be streamlined through the development of a Customs Single Window, which will include upgrades of existing software systems and procurement of equipment and training.
For electronic payments, government will begin to set-up e-Payment gateway services and design an e-Tax administration system. As it relates to secure identification. Past efforts to develop a modern ID system will also be built upon and used as a foundation for citizen-centric Digital services.
“We will apply lessons learned through our CARCIP [Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure] Programme to enhance digital skills and technology adoption. And we will hire the necessary expertise to develop digital strategies, review existing legislation and make recommendations on necessary reforms,” the finance minister said.
The government’s investment in this digital transformation will see 10 new posts being created in the Information Technology Services Division (ITSD) to strengthen its e-Government Unit, Network Systems & Services Support Unit and the Maintenance Unit in order to adequately deliver ICT and e-Government related services.
Some tasks have also been centralised within the department to streamline its functionality.
“The Budgetary allocation to the ITSD therefore jumps from the $6.5 million approved last year to $11.9 million in 2022. This expanded and reformed Division will lead the charge of our digital transformation initiatives,” Gonsalves said, while adding that other ministries, state-owned enterprises and other important pillars of the economy have already begun to embrace the government’s thrust for digital transformation.
He continued: “The Inter-American Development Bank recently stressed that ‘the digitisation of services has the potential to boost inclusive economic growth.’ We are similarly convinced, and have long held that people- centred technology is a developmental accelerant that can catapult us forward in an inclusive manner”.
“After some unforeseen delays and false starts, the challenges of the pandemic have laid bare the shortcomings of outmoded processes and the necessity of fresh technological solutions to old challenges across our archipelago. Online education and the exigencies of remote work gave us glimpses into both the challenges and possibilities of a more digital lifestyle,” the finance minister said.
“We will build on those experiences to increase our ambition for a connected, informed, and efficient government and citizenry. This transformation will not take place in 2022. It is a multi-year process, that requires the buy-in of the public and private sectors. But this fresh initiative begins in earnest this year, and many of its investments will help spur economic growth as we recover.”