Gopee-Scoon: Government to expand e-services

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon. – Photo courtesy Ministry of Trade

THE government will soon expand the number of e-services available to the public.

This was one of the highlights of Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon’s speech as she delivered the feature address at the 40th annual general meeting (AGM) of regional telecommunication organisation Canto on Sunday.

Canto facilitates regional and international information, communication and technology (ICT) projects, discussions and objectives critical to the Caribbean.

It hosts ICT workshops and an annual conference and trade exhibitions for its members, which include telecommunication service providers, equipment suppliers, consultants, government ministries and educational institutions.

In keeping with the AGM’s theme, Toward a Sustainable Digital Economy, Gopee-Scoon said the government is working to ensure appropriate policies are developed to actively encourage a sustainable digital economy while promoting industrial development.

“A major component of government’s digital transformation agenda involves increasing the number of e-services that are available to our citizens, while at the same time improving the quality of the more than 200 e-services that are already on offer.”

She said transitioning government services to digital platforms not only enhances efficiency but can also contribute to environmental sustainability.

But Gopee-Scoon said the increase in services will be in vain if the public is not able to use it.

“To truly build a digital society and integrate technology into daily lives, the government must pay special focus on making programmes readily accessible and improving digital literacy among citizens.”

She said this is why the government has developed a Trinidad and Tobago Wifi programme, with internet access at 240 public sites such as public transport hubs, hospital waiting rooms, libraries and schools.

Gopee-Scoon said the shift to digital will also require legislative changes, adding, “The core element of a digital economy includes a modern and responsive enabling environment for innovation.

“Work is ongoing to update several pieces of legislation, such the Telecommunications Act, the Data Protection Act, the Electronic Transactions Act and also much-needed cyber security legislation.”

She added there are plans to link customer databases throughout ministries to “transform the way citizens access public services.”

“This initiative is being developed with the assistance of the UNDevelopment Programme (UNDP) and the governments of India and Estonia and will be an iteration of Estonia’s renowned and highly regarded X-road solution.”

Gopee-Scoon said the government has also invested in digital infrastructure with the launch of the Phoenix Park Industrial Estate, which the Prime Minister opened on January 10.

Phoenix Park is the first industrial park in the Caribbean and Latin America outfitted with a 5G telecommunications network.

She added the Ministry of Digital Transformation has already secured space to establish a government data centre to house critical data and software currently distributed across government. Gopee-Scoon said the centre will be built with an option to be scaled up as necessary to meet increasing demand.

She also highlighted the signing of a contribution and technical assistance agreement with the UN Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to develop Trinidad and Tobago’s national e-commerce strategy for 2024-2029.

Gopee-Scoon said the strategy should be completed in the next year and “will form a key pillar of the country’s digital transformation agenda and position Trinidad and Tobago as a regional e-commerce hub.”

Canto’s secretary general Teresa Wankin praised the organisation’s resilience as she noted its evolution during its 40 years of existence.

“This year marks 40 years of serving needs, 40 years of advocacy, 40 years of provision of training, the facilitation and creation of the necessary platforms to enable growth and development in the region.”

She said Canto is also turning its attention to addressing climate change by exploring how ICT can reduce carbon footprints and using technology and innovation to help companies achieve this.

“We will examine how smart technologies contribute to creating, measuring and sustaining carbon efficient operations. We aim to ensure the long-term sustainability of businesses and Earth.”

Wankin, who is Trinidadian, said it was important she brought the AGM to Trinidad and Tobago, particularly during Carnival.

“We brought 35 different countries here from all over the world. And the significance of having it here is showcasing Trinidad and Tobago as a possible destination for business tourism.

“When we do an event, we also showcase the culture of the country that we are in…We don’t just go to a country and use hotel facilities. We bring out the entire culture of the country. We showcase the infrastructure of the country, in this case, telecommunications infrastructure, because that’s key to doing business.”