Damages from hurricane Irma prevented the delivery of a number of government services in the days following the disaster and Government is keen on ensuring that this interruption is not repeated. Therefore as the rebuilding continues, the concept of e-government is being touted and pushed to ensure that the public service will bounce back faster after a disaster, and to ensure ease of access to government services.
In the last few days both Premier and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith and Deputy Governor Rosalie Adams in their call for feedback on the public service’ redevelopment plan cited that e-government is part of the new model.
The move to incorporate more ICT into the public sector and offer more electronic services started before hurricane Irma. In fact, in January 2015 what was described as the first phase of the e-government move took place with the re-launch of the government’s website. At that time a promise to implement phase 2 which was expected to facilitate online payment for various services was made.
It has always been said that necessity is the mother of inventions and the post Irma issues have added an extra pep in Government’s step towards the electronic side of government operations. For instance the recent issues with immigration gave way for online processing to be expedited, and the Department of Motor Vehicles is keen now to push ahead to facilitate online payments for its services.
Although the move towards e-government like many other government initiatives has been slow and long in coming at least one person never stopped advocating for its arrival — Chair of the e-Government steering committee, and Junior Minister for Trade and Investment, Hon. Marlon Penn.
In an interview with The Island Sun newspaper Hon. Penn disclosed that the need for e-government is even more relevant considering the experience following hurricane Irma. He also disclosed that money has been earmarked to move the initiative along. “We had a discussion about the project. Right now there is about $2.5Million earmarked for e-government.”
The Junior Minister said that he recently attended a CARICOM meeting that was held in Antigua and at that meeting there were discussions about a single Caribbean platform for e-government
“Right now they are developing a strategy that would be financed through all the Caribbean nations but they are calling it a sou-sou financing initiative where they are going to build a lot of the policies a lot of the framework and it will be shared across all government departments,” Hon. Penn disclosed.
As it relates to the continuation of the project that was started on the e-government initiative two years ago Hon. Penn said that task is ongoing. “We are working to get that done in earnest. Our acting PS Dawn Smith is eager to get that program moving. She supports e-government. We are now looking at the strategy. We have a standard meeting now every Monday to discuss moving that e-government strategy forward,” Hon. Penn disclosed.
“It (e-government strategy) is moving and will be featured prominently in what we do in terms of rebuilding. I think we now have a permanent opportunity to build in the infrastructure early in the complex in the way that we set up our offices. In the way that the government communicates with the public. We want to do that right and we want to do it properly,” the Junior Minister added.
As it relates to ICT inclusion in the public sector Hon. Penn referenced FSC’s Virgin Lite platform which allows for external access to financial service processes and allow for transactions such as name reservations and company searches from outside of the BVI.
This Hon. Penn said is a great example of how e-government will allow the Territory to function well after a disaster: “The evidence is there in terms of what happened with hurricane Irma — with our financial services industry. We were able to be back up and running days after Irma because of the resiliencies that were built in our financial services. I actually worked on the financial services Virgin system. I was the project manager on that system and actually did the business development.”
“I understood then, as I understand now the importance of building resiliencies into our processes and operations, and Irma proved us right that we did the right thing when we built Virgin. It is now keeping the country economically, monies are coming through financial services despite our physical devastation…Companies were able to go to the Cayman Islands, go to different places and operate as they were as they would have been in the BVI. That is a good thing and that is the kind of resiliency ICT gives you and I think we need to do the same thing for central government,” Hon. Penn added.