TTIGF 2021 03 Senator Allyson West Keynote
6:36PM Jan 29, 2021
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point in time, what we'll try to do is invite our honorable Minister of Public Administration and Digital Technologies to please say a few words.
So, Honorable Minister, over to you.
Good morning Chair. Thank you very much. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It is both a pleasure and a privilege for me to join you today at this your annual forum. I wish to thank the organizers of this event, the Trinidad and Tobago Multistakeholder Advisory Group for extending an invitation to me to deliver the keynote address. I must admit that I was intrigued by the theme you selected for this forum, Digitalization The New Norm, as it is such a fitting theme for the times that we now live in. I'm certain that you will agree with me when I say the 2020 was definitely an unprecedented year. Not only did we grapple with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its negative economic impact on our economy, but, as a result of the pandemic, we witnessed an unexpected -- an exponential -- increase in the use of digital technology, so much so that suppliers of technology are having challenges keeping up with the demands coming in from all corners of the globe.
What we saw during those weeks and months in 2020 was the beginning of a paradigm shift, the onset of the new normal. We witnessed, and continue to witness, changes in the way people purchase goods and services, communicate, work and live. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet have become our new classrooms, workspaces, meetup places, and even online in sports. Digital and online technology has provided a means whereby our local artist, and event promoters who have been hit hard by the pandemic, are finding ways to post online concerts and even bets, as a means of simultaneously generating income and easing the Carnival Tabanca that so many of us citizens are now experiencing. We have even witnessed election campaigns being conducted online, who would have thought? The paradigm has indeed shifted, and I dare say there is no going back. The digital revolution, which began a few short years ago, has been intensified by the need for us to adhere to new rules and practices, that is our health and safety protocols of wearing masks, hand washing, and, more significantly, physical distancing. Thankfully, our use of technology has allowed us to evolve, and to manage the time that we are currently in.
Ladies and gentlemen, the new normal is very much digital and it is here to stay. Working from home and distance learning will endure past the pandemic. The Ministry of Education has indicated that blending learning was on the cards pre-pandemic, as were online exams, the pandemic merely brought this to a head. While the COVID-19 pandemic has had some negative effects on individuals, households, and our economies. On the positive side, it is forging forcing us to advance the digital agenda, and it's creating converts of persons who were previously hesitant to venture into that world. I'm truly amazed at the rapid and widespread adoption of technology by micro, small, medium and large enterprises. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and many of our private sector entities were swiftly able to adapt to the new environment. The range of online applications and solutions has grown exponentially, to the point where we have difficulty imagining now how we survived without options like Skip D Line, Drop TT, WiPay, and EmployTT. I'm particularly proud of EmployTT, which was developed by tertiary level students who participated in a hackathon hosted in 2019 by iGovTT. Just imagine the impact on our economy if we seek to harness the technological capabilities of our young people and future entrepreneurs and, having imagined it, we must now set out to achieve it, and GOTT, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, has a plan to do just that.
Let me reassure everyone that the government has placed the development of a digital Trinidad and Tobago at the forefront of its development agenda. A fully digital Trinidad and Tobago is central to growth and diversification of our economy. As the minister with responsibility for Digital Transformation, I'm keenly aware of how mammoth and multifaceted a task that is, with the most challenging aspect of it being transforming the way people, especially our public servants, approach their duties. The public service is not known for its agility, and that is exactly what the digital world requires. But this is not just a public service issue, it will require the involvement and engagement of us all. From the doubles vendor who must be prepared to shift to an e-payment system, to granny who will need to embrace e-applications and e-banking. A Digital Trinidad and Tobago will only be achieved when ICT becomes a major feature of the fabric of our economy, society, and governance mechanisms. In short, ICT must be become as Trinbagonian as Carnival, roti, and crab and dumpling. It must play a fundamental role as both an enabler of national development, as well as the sector for economic diversification. In that way, ICT will not only enhance service delivery, improve the ease of doing business and improve citizen satisfaction, but it will also provide our people with the means to participate in, and contribute to, the development of our country.
Now there are those among us who will say that this is not attainable, given our current economic climate and culture. However, let me assure you that this government is committed to delivering on its promise of a digital Trinidad and Tobago. In keeping with this digital transformation agenda, government has signed an MoU with the government of Estonia for assistance with the development of its e-identity and interoperability platforms. These two initiatives are essential to the widespread delivery of government services online, and improvement in the interaction between government agencies. The development of a proper legislative and policy environment is an integral part of our transformation program, and we are in the process of updating relevant legislation, such as the Electronic Transactions Act and the Data Protection Act, while we fine tune our data classification and cloud computing policies.
Additionally, government has already introduced measures to ensure that everyone has access to the digital platform, from removing taxes on devices, to making devices available to the most vulnerable, to building out access centers, and making Wi-Fi available in remote and vulnerable areas. Since last we spoke, the TT Wi-Fi service has been extended to 26 more locations nationwide, inclusive of 15 libraries in both Trinidad and Tobago. It is available in four of our major bus terminals, as well as the ferry and water taxi terminals. On the inaugural trip to Tobago last week on the A.P.T. James, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the connection throughout the voyage.
Government has also made some headway in online services, including E-Tax, the U-Turn system, birth and death certificate applications, travel exemptions, Develop TT, which is the construction approval process, to name a few. What we have to quickly advance in support of those and other applications, and to make it easier for our citizens, is the GOTT Pay system, and we are working assiduously on that.
More than ever our Digital Transformation program is focused on leveraging digital platforms and information to better serve citizens, residents, visitors and businesses. However, we need your help. Everyone has a role to play in our digital journey, and organizations such as yours can play a pivotal role in getting us to the end game that we are seeking to arrive at. We need all parties on board if we are to modernize the public service, and make Trinidad and Tobago a digital nation. Digital Transformation is not the work of one ministry, we all need to work collaboratively to affect meaningful change.
As I close, I thank organizers of the forum for inviting me. I look forward to working with you throughout the year, and the coming years, to ensure that we swiftly and effectively develop our Digital Trinidad and Tobago. I thank you and I wish you all the best in your deliberations over the next two days.
Thank you very much honorable minister. one phrase that you made up your mind resonated very well with me. Everyone has a role to play. And it's not really a situation of pointing fingers, but all of us actually getting involved, that we make this digitalization a success, make it a reality.