By Mellica McPherson
The promised e-Government service was launched this week with the unveiling of a new revamped government website that is expected to be a portal to all government services. However, many who waited anxiously for e-Government services such as online payments will have to wait a little longer; such a service will be provided in the second phase of the upgrade.
The website that can be accessed at www.bvi.gov.vg was launched on 20 January in the form of a publicly broadcasted press conference. During the launch Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith announced that previously there were 30 government service websites operating. He said that the 30 websites each had their own look and feel.
According to Hon. Smith the varying designs provided a varied look of government. In fact, the BVI Leader lamented that there was no commonality in the 30 designs; he also mentioned that they were created with varying technology, and were not all compatible. Additionally the Premier said that maintaining the 30 websites were costly.
Now that e-Government is here, Hon. Smith announced that the new website and the e-Government service gives the Territory the global competitive edge: “The new website will transform us as a modern entity,” Hon. Smith said.
Deputy Governor, Hon. V. Inez Archibald told the gathering that the launch signals a new day in the way government does business. She said that the website means access to services government provides with a click. “In the near future we will be able to offer service to the public wherever in the world they may be…I look forward to the launch of phase two which will allow payment for government services.”
Chair of the e-Government steering committee, Eighth District Representative, Hon. Marlon Penn announced that the e-Government service portal (new website) changes the way government does business. Hon Penn told the gathering: “Transforming the way government does business was not an option, but a necessity. This initiative will bring services from beyond the walls of the Administrative Complex from 8:30 am to 4:30pm to the people of the BVI wherever they are 24 hours a day seven days a week.”
Hon. Penn also described the website as a multifaceted initiative that will enable the BVI to better compete. He said that in the future, phase two will be rolled out and will allow online filing, online payment of property tax, drivers licence renewal and request for register of births.
Online Payment in Phase Two
Hon. Penn did not say when phase two is expected to be completed, but he did indicate that the completed project will be worth the wait: “I don’t want to give a timeline in relation to phase two, but I just want the public to know that we are aggressively working on that strategy; and some departments are closer than others in terms of services that will be offered.”
The key component, Hon. Penn stated, would be to have in place the essential tools that would facilitate payments online. To facilitate online payments the Committee began working with an OECS group. “Once the payment system is in place it would be easier for us to transition further along the process,” Hon. Penn stated.
However, it was noted that once payments are being accepted online for government services persons cannot expect to make payments for statutory services such as electricity. In fact Hon. Penn explained that such services are not being catered to.
The Committee Chairman said: “We have created a bridge for the statutory organizations through the Ministries that are responsible for those organizations, but in terms of direct ownership of their sites we are not doing that at all.”
One of the great hopes for e-Government is the provision of current vital statistics. Unfortunately this is another service that will require some patience as that service is not available at this time.
The promise that e-Government service will bring the realization of the statistical dream was mentioned by Premier Smith more than a year ago. Hon. Smith alluded to that possibility, during a press conference on 18 September, 2013. At that forum, Hon. Smith said: “Right now we are working on improving what we call the e-Government and this drive will ensure that the statistics will be coming in more regularly and can be looked at more appropriately and be more useful.”
Director of the Central Statistics Office, Mr. Raymond Phillips in an unrelated appearance on a JTV television program expressed his high hopes for the e-Government service and explained why statistics were not always current.
Mr. Phillips said: “We have an e-Government initiative that is now being looked at, however we don’t know exactly when that’s all going to be ironed out; but as it is now even though a lot of the information is housed in these different government department and ministries the thing is that many of them are not automated.”
In alluding to the need for e-Government services and the huge commitment such an initiative would require, Mr. Phillip said: “I agree it is going to be a mammoth undertaking, but we have to get there at some time, we can’t be left behind. That’s the direction in which the world is heading — it’s information, information. We have to pull away from this manual tedious kind of labour, because it is counter-productive.”