Ministry: ‘Exceedingly difficult’ to hire, retain cybersecurity experts

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Stock photo

THE Ministry of Digital Transformation says it is “exceedingly difficult” to find and retain cybersecurity experts in the public sector as the salaries offered are not competitive enough.

This was revealed by the ministry’s permanent secretary Cory Belfon during a Public Administration and Appropriations Committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon.

Committee member and Minister in the Education Ministry Lisa Morris-Julian asked if iGovTT – the national ICT company – is operating at its “optimal best.”

The company offers ICT solutions and support for the all ministries in the public sector.

Belfon said the level of resources needed to “optimally respond to a lot of digital projects, and to drive some of the procurement and project management and oversight that iGovTT embarks on, essentially, is stymied to some extent.”

Some challenges, he said, include remuneration levels and retaining talent to “effectively support ministries in various aspects.

“I could give you an example. It is exceedingly difficult to find cybersecurity personnel – simply because you’re competing with the private sector.”

He said with the level of certification some people might have, “the band of remuneration that would be available at iGovTT may not satisfy a particular candidate…

“So they don’t end up taking the job so it leads to a capability and a capacity issue where they may not be effectively resourced to respond in a particular area.”

He said the problem resulted in project delays and unavailability of technical advice for particular projects.

But he assured it was being addressed as discussions were ongoing with the Ministry of Finance.

“…In terms of advocating for and justifying the relevant increases to iGovTT and, as well, the justification as to why we would require a variety of personnel and an increase in resources, not just to support the Ministry of Digital Transformation but the wider public sector in digitalisation and digitisation.”

He said it was a “two-part problem” but one that could be solved through continued collaboration with the Ministry of Finance “to get the fiscal resources made available and pursuing the rapid head-hunting or human resource function to get iGovTT (where it needs to be).

Recently, there have been several cyber attacks at companies including at TSTT (Telecommunications Services of TT), the nib (National Insurance Board), the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Blue Waters, Massy Group, among others.

And in January, National Security Minister Fitzgerald Hinds revealed that there had been 204 cyber attacks in TT between 2019 and 2023.

During the meeting, Belfon also mentioned the issue of understaffing.

He added that there was a shortfall in operational expenditure of $27.8 million, which was used to cover human resource expenditure.

“(A total of) $22m million of that goes towards salaries, probably roughly around $2 million is left in terms of operating expenditure.”

Christine Ferreira, head of finance at iGovTT, said the ministry has been surviving on its operating reserves, which are now dwindling.

“We want to ramp up our human resources so that we can support the Ministry of Digital Transformation.

“To date, we are expected to have another 21 projected positions. Again, all our subvention has been allocated to our salaries and there is not sufficient to bring in these additional positions to support (the) ministry).”

Ferreira said there are currently 139 employees when there should be 175.