Jamaica to assist other CARICOM States with E-Readiness

Kingston, Jamaica- Jamaica has pledged to assist its CARICOM counterparts in their development of e-readiness and e-governance programs, having been ranked as the leading English-speaking Caribbean country in e-readiness by the 2005 survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the Economist Magazine.

As a result of this outstanding achievement, the Central Information Technology Office (CITO) is now in demand by other CARICOM states for seminars and briefings in the context of the impending CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME).

“At last week’s Ministerial CARICOM meeting of those responsible for Telecommunications and Information Communication Technology (ICT), Jamaica pledged to assist other countries in their development of e-readiness and e-governance programs,” Minister of Commerce, Science and Technology Phillip Paulwell, told JIS News.

“Jamaica,” he said would “seek to lessen the digital divide that now existed between developed and developing states”. Discussions are now ongoing with Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados with a view to developing a framework of co-operation.

E-readiness is the extent to which a country is open to Internet-based opportunities.

Currently, six of the island’s government agencies facilitate online transactions and business activity.

The EIU, which is the world’s leading provider of country or state intelligence, measures the e-business environment by gauging the effectiveness and implementation level of e-commerce facilitating machinery.

By breaking this down into six categories the EIU then scores countries in each category: connectivity and technology infrastructure, business environment, consumer and business adoption, legal and policy environment, social and cultural environment and supporting e-services.

With 8.74 out of 10, Denmark leads the field in e-readiness, closely followed by the United States of America (USA) which scored 8.73; Sweden, 8.64; Switzerland ranked 8.62 and the United Kingdom (UK) 8.54, rounding off the top five.

Jamaica’s 4.8 score secured the 41st ranking out of 65 participating countries in the April 20, 2005 published EIU report. Jamaica leads regional countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, but was however placed behind Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.

At 6.60, Jamaica’s Legal and Policy Environment score outpaces the global average of 6.45. But the 2.90 connectivity score is the lowest received amongst the six categories.

Minister Paulwell is however not too perturbed. He disclosed, “within two months time, there will be a rapid deployment of broadband technology in Jamaica, which should ‘up’ connectivity, thanks to the soon to be expected greater deployment of the new Wi-Fi and Wi-Mac cyber technology.”

The Minister also told JIS News that with the long-awaited and hard- fought for wider introduction of broadband technology, “Jamaica hopes to close the digital divide that now exists between most developed countries and their developing counterparts.”

Explaining Jamaica’s low internet connectivity, Dainsworth Richards, Strategic Planning Officer at CITO, explained that this was directly linked to the perceived high technology cost. He expressed the hope that “the fibre optic lines will lessen connectivity cost”.

On January 5, this year, the Ministry of Commerce, Science and Technology awarded fiber optic licenses to Fibralink Jamaica Limited and Trans Caribbean Cable Company.

The legal and policy environment introduces and sets the tone for e-commerce. It is within this same category that some of Jamaica’s greater strengths and one weakness are identified.

As Michael duQuesnay, Chief Executive Officer of CITO explained, Jamaica has not yet passed an Electronic Transactions Bill that facilitates complete online transactions up to the point of receipt, as in the case of Barbados. The Bill is now be deliberated in the Houses of Parliament.

As it is now in Jamaica, the entire e-transaction is facilitated up to the point of receipt where the citizen has to still go in and sign relevant documents. The legislation would allow for the introduction of electronic signatures for electronically filed documents.

“Currently, the law only permits validation by a receipt. Without that, you can’t prove that any transaction has been done. For now the most tedious parts of the transaction can be done online, but until the Bill is passed, you still have to go into the office and get the final transaction receipt,” said Mr. Richards.

CITO is however hopeful that the E-transactions Bill will be passed by the Houses of Parliament in the near future to facilitate electronic signatures and electronic filing and therefore eliminate the necessity of going into the particular agency office to complete transactions.

However, Mr. duQuesnay also explained that although Jamaica did not yet have a Bill that allowed for the online disbursement of receipts, the country had a strong Telecommunications Liberalisation Law that allows for a good e-business environment.

“One of the reasons why we perform quite well on the worldwide scale is that not many countries have a strong Telecommunications Liberalisation Law as we do,” said Mr. duQuesnay.

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