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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Skills, infrastructure key to national ICT strategy - workshop hears
Stabroek News
President Bharrat Jagdeo (far right, front row), Prime Minister Samuel Hinds (third right, front row) and other members of the Cabinet listen to a presentation yesterday at a national workshop to brainstorm ideas for an ICT strategy. (GINA photo)

Skills, infrastructure and legislation were among the key issues raised at a national workshop yesterday, the prelude to an effective Informa-tion and Communications Technology (ICT) strategy for Guyana.

The ICT workshop saw the main conference hall of the Guyana International Conven-tion Centre at Liliendaal filled to capacity. The high cost of bandwidth in Guyana, unreliable IT services and affordable electricity, and lack of IT infrastructure were some of the challenges raised among five groups brainstorming themes for the ICT strategy for Guyana.

The themes considered were human capacity, content and applications, infrastructure, legislative regulatory regime and management of the ICT sector and ICT enterprise development.

Among those present at the workshop were President Bharrat Jagdeo who stayed until the end; Prime Minister Samuel Hinds who was also at the end to hear the groups' presentations; Chairman of the Public Utilities Commis-sion (PUC), Prem Persaud; United States Ambassador to Guyana Roland Bullen; Public Service Minister Jennifer Westford; Minister of Labour, Dale Bisnauth; Minister of Health, Leslie Ramsammy; Minister of Foreign Trade, Clement Rohee; Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Manzoor Nadir, and Policy Coordinator of Guyana's Poverty Reduction Strategy Programme (PRSP), Coby Frimpong.

Vijay Datodin, who facilitated the group addressing content and applications, told those present that the content for the ICT strategy should be community driven and that content generation should be acted upon now and not wait on the ideal of universal access.

United Nations Develop-ment Programme (UNDP) consultant, Gonzalo Armayo, his presentation, highlighted the importance of information and not too much attachment to the instruments delivering it. "Information is the basic aspect we should consider."

The group addressing infrastructure said the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) monopoly on communications in Guyana was "the single largest hindrance" to an effective ICT strategy. It incurred high cost and provided limited capacity. "The monopoly should be address-ed by government now," Brian Young, facilitator of the infrastructure group said.

He said that GT&T's bandwidth price was some 22 times the average world market price. Young said the group felt the PUC should regulate bandwidth price just as it regulated cell phone rates.

The group also highlighted the need for clean (stable) and affordable power. It proposed duty-free ICT equipment like Uninterrupted Power Suppliers commonly called UPS.

For an effective national ICT strategy, the infrastructure group suggested a national networking of local agencies, businesses and institutions with GT&T always there as a player under the present circumstances. Sharing of infrastructure was another strategy suggested where if a company had a service in Lethem for example, another company could share the infrastructure if it needed to use it.

The group also proposed ICT parks where the necessary infrastructure including clean power, internet connectivity, and redundancy (back-up communication provision) would be in place, only for companies like banks for example which had IT systems in every location to plug in and use.

Armayo defined IT as, "just tools" that could be used for a varied set of goods, applications, and to distribute and exchange information.

Pointing out the importance of these tools, Armayo said they could be used to destroy gaps between societies giving the opportunity for quick development.

Providing the framework for the pursuing of an ICT strategy, he said it is a the basic human right for persons to have access to information such as the constitution of Guyana, the resolution of the UN World Summit on Information Society, and the National Development Strategy, Armayo said.

He said ICT helps in managing, processing, and providing basic services like education and health. It also improves the capacity to monitor and report progress.

The group brainstorming human capacity looked at an affective scheme to retain skilled persons. Facilitator Grace McCalmon noted that many University of Guyana students who graduated in computer science were looking to further their studies and indicated that higher training could be provided here.

While Guyana might not be fully ready for an ICT industry, the strategy must lead to that, McCalmon said and the private sector has a role to play here.

In developing human capacity the group proposed the development of information packages like CDs or multi media (audio/video) tailored to meet the needs. The group also proposed local scholarships bringing ICT professionals here.

For effective management of human capacity, McCalmon pointed to the need for key performance indicators like all-ICT enabled schools, teachers trained in ICT delivery and ultimately computer literate persons in every region in Guyana. "We have a situation," McCalmon said, "where teachers are outdone by students."

Teni Housty presented the proposals of the legislative group. He said any legislative regime must provide an enabling environment and not necessarily one that may work in a developed country, but not relevant to Guyana.

Any legislative framework must not be static. It must take a holistic approach taking into account that ICT cuts across various other sectors. It must also harmonise and be related to other Caricom countries. "We do not operate in a vacuum," Housty said.

Housty said any legislative regime should not be tied to any particular technology. "It must be technologically neutral. So that if the method changed..."

Recognition of electronic documents, ISP liability, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) involving things like domain names (names of internet sites), cyber crime, and privacy and protection of data would be some of the issues surrounding a regulatory structure.

He said legislation should also provide scope for self regulation, where all stakeholders took responsibility for the sector.

The group also proposed setting up a national ICT authority with a mandate for coordinating, managing and developing the sector. This authority would need to be multi-ministerial and multi-disciplinary and have autonomy.

The group addressing enterprise development said there were opportunities for development of the ICT sector in Guyana regarding overseas companies outsourcing their work here. These include a foreseen shortage of IT labour in India, the major outsourcing market, by some 500,000 by 2010.

Guyana's strengths in this area include the fact that is an English-speaking country, low wages, the time zone being mostly same as that of the west, a compatible culture, and it being a hurricane- and earthquake-free zone unlike some other Caribbean countries.

Some weaknesses cited by the group included flooding, "unstable crime and personal safety situation" and "a barely-functioning judicial system."

Noting the potential of the ICT sector for outsourcing, private businessman, Rajendra Persaud told the gathering that it could employ some 10,000 Guyanese generating some US$100M making it second only to the sugar industry. Outsourcing is a US$141B global market.

Persaud's call centre in Berbice employs 170 and has the capability for 265 persons. In India, Persaud said, outsourcing grew at 25% annually and contributed 4.1% of the country's GDP.

Results will be put on a public forum where participants could continue to contribute.

Coordinator of the ICT strategy and Information Liaison to Jagdeo, Robert Persaud, told this newspaper that a draft will soon be made with a subsequent launching of the strategy.

The challenge Jagdeo said was for the participants to craft a technically sound ICT strategy which was also user friendly. "All Guyanese must be able to pick up the strategy and see themselves in that strategy."