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Inspired and aided by Singapore, a world leader in e-government, the Bahamas will launch its first such portal in July, marking a significant step towards a "fundamental" shift in "the culture of doing business in the Bahamas and providing public services in our nation," the Minister of State for Finance said yesterday.

Business license applications, payment of business license fees, real property taxes, various fines, drivers' license renewals, government vendor inquiries and public service-wide customer service will be dealt with - and paid for - for the first time online once the portal - www.govnet.bs - goes live.

Each Bahamian citizen will be provided with a "unique citizen identifier" number, and the Government will implement an "e-payment gateway" to facilitate online payments for the services. A survey will be implemented to see which other services should be prioritised for online availability.

Consultants from the information technology arm of the Singaporean government are in the process of guiding the Bahamas as it "lays the technical foundation and governance structure" necessary to move towards "a Bahamas where technology is the driver in all sectors of our society", Zhivargo Laing told a handful of MPs who attended a presentation on the e-government initiative yesterday at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort.

With 30 years of experience in developing and delivering e-government, consultants from IDA International have recommended a raft of steps to be taken by the Bahamian government as it begins its journey to catch up. Apart from benefits to the ease of doing business, the Government believes that the movement of key services online will enhance every sector - from education and health, to tourism and financial services, transportation and justice.

Speaking of the private sector benefits, Mr Laing said: "The idea of having a sound e-government programme is that it all helps to make your economy and offerings better. It becomes easier to do business, and that creates opportunities for both domestic and international companies to come here to do business. There's that incentive, and it creates momentum for generating new and expanded business opportunities, which means more jobs.

"It is conceivable that any number of people seeing what we have done may find opportunities to provide the services that this effort requires," he added, noting, for example, there will be a need for a great deal of digitisation of public records which will be contracted out.

As well as their findings and recommendations relative to the Bahamas, IDA International chief executive, Seah Chin Siong, and deputy director, Serene Ho, provided an impressive presentation to Parliamentarians on 'The Singapore Story'. This outlined how the Asian economy left behind bureaucratic inefficiency, exemplified by long queues for government services, court case backlogs, and unending paperwork in the 1980s, and moved to an Internet-oriented system of government service delivery that has seen the time and cost associated with accessing government services drop to zero in some cases.

Some 1,600 e-services and 30,000 different business-related applications are accessible online, with applicants able to get notice of the status of their applications via e-mail and SMS messages. Businesses can be registered in between 20 minutes to an hour.

The pay-offs attributed to efficiency in this area have been great, with Singapore ranked top for ease of doing business by the World Bank for five years in a row, and commonly rated first for quality of life globally. With a population of two million in the 1960s growing to almost five million today, its GDP has swelled over the same period to $235 billion (The Bahamas has a GDP of around $6.8 billion).

Mr Laing said it is the Bahamian government's expectation that IDA International will "recommend a way forward for the Bahamas that would employ best practices and follow a model that would yield the most for our effort

"Singapore, one of the world's leaders in delivering e-government, over some 30 years has successfully used technology to improve the lives of its citizens, expand its economy and made itself one of the best countries in the world in which to work and live. The Bahamas is seeking to do the same. In the long term we would like to use technology to make the Bahamas the best place to work and live in our region."

The Minister of State said the long-term government initiative will involve "substantial investment on our part, but the gains will be significant".

A nationwide public education programme is planned, as the Government says it desires and requires "the fullest possible buy-in by our society" into e-government.

In a six-month study conducted this year, IDA International determined that the Bahamas currently lacks "government-wide information and communications (ICT) plans, an ICT governance structure, a unified government-wide citizen identifier system or a government-wide e-payment gateway (permitting payment for government services online)."

There is also a scarcity of ICT manpower "spread thinly across ministries", and a lack of integration between government agencies' back-end systems in terms of the capacity to share data held within each online. Initial recommendations from IDA International for the Bahamas include the launch of a Department of Information Technology and an Information Communications Technology (ICT) Committee, along with a focus on developing and pursuing a "national ICT vision" with defined strategic outcomes and measurable performance outcomes.

IDA International proposes that a Department of IT will play a part in developing the manpower necessary to resource the e-government effort. An ICT Committee will bring together key individuals from each government ministry and beyond, with the government advised to appoint a Chief Information Officer for each ministry, who is "responsible for that ministry's IT needs and meeting the strategic objectives set out by the national committee".

The benefits of doing government business online, said Ms Ho, include reduced duplication of information and efforts throughout agencies, cross-agency efficiencies through sharing and aggregating data, easy access to government any time or any where, enhanced customer service and increased transparency.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Alison Lowe

Quelle/Source: The Tribune, 09.11.2010

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