Most Hon. Andrew Holness, ON, MP
Prime Minister, Jamaica
Launch of the Government of Jamaica Portal – GOV.JM
August 09, 2017
I am very excited about this project. It represents one of the critical elements of the transformation of the public sector. In development years Jamaica would be a country just entering its adolescence and over our 55 years of independence, we have adopted a model of government that is institution heavy. Meaning that we have invested heavily in a public sector bureaucracy there’s nothing wrong with bureaucracy, bureaucracy is important for the delivery of service to the public that is efficient and transparent. But if bureaucracy is not tended it becomes self-serving and when it becomes self-serving it becomes dense, it becomes corrupt, it becomes opaque, you can’t understand why it takes the decisions it takes.
Luckily for Jamaica, and for the world, we are existing at a time when there is a global development revolution being led by information. So we had the agricultural revolution then we had the industrial revolution now we are in the information revolution. The question is how do bureaucracies survive in the information age? Because the information age, as it says it provides information so bureaucracies that are dense and opaque and corrupt really should not survive in the information age but when bureaucracies are self-serving there usually is resistance.
In Jamaica, my assessment is that it is not so much resistance it is more-so a lack of understanding and appreciation of how information and in particular information technology can revolutionise bureaucracies. It won’t make them extinct, it won’t eliminate hierarchical bureaucratic structures; but it will change them, it will make them flatter, it will increase the decision-making process, it will make them more transparent, it will make them more efficient; and by efficient I mean using the same resources differently to achieve greater results. So, today after several years of talking about e-gov and GOV.JM, it has taken us approximately seven years to do this project. I am not impressed at all that it has taken us so long to do this. If you notice we dropped roughly twenty (20) places in the global ranking, not because we have just deteriorated, the truth is that other countries have done much more than we have.
Within this region, Jamaica was one of the first countries to liberalise its telecommunications industry which gave the infrastructure for Jamaica to take advantage of the information revolution but we just have not built on it, so it is taking us seven years to get to this point where we have dropped approximately twenty (20) places trying to catch up Trinidad and Panama.
Recently I was in Singapore and they are looking at how to open a business from one day to hours. They have used information technology to seamlessly integrate all their ministries. They too suffered the same fate by virtue of a similar colonial history of having a very dense bureaucracy. Now Singapore has approximately fifty (50) ministries, departments and agencies; Jamaica has over two hundred (200). What we are thinking of now with this portal is how do we bring the 200 websites and information platforms together in one portal, Singapore only has to do fifty. In the process of integrating information you will recognise redundancies. Bringing the information together forces the bureaucracy to start to look at its business processes and engineer them for efficiency.
So, whilst I celebrate this as an achievement really what I am celebrating is that the various departments and agencies of government will now have to look at their business processes, see where there are redundancies, integrate them and make them more efficient. All of that is a benefit for the citizen consumer, but the people who operate the bureaucracy must never see this as detrimental to them. It doesn’t mean that you won’t exist; that your job will go, what it means is that your job may change. So my appeal to you is to embrace change, to support this that we have managed to achieve; to give it your full energy to make the transformation work.
My other appeal is that we tend to see technology in its physical manifestation. We see the computer as technology and we tend to see the computer or the phone as the advancement in technology, in a sense it is, but I want Jamaicans to move away from that. The people who create the computers they are the ones who actually have the technology; we have to stop seeing the appliance effect of the technology and see the development and creative effect of the technology. So, clearly the information age is here; we can buy the technology but we must not see it merely as an appliance we must see it as a tool for development.
There are many websites but the tax office is still packed with people wedded to paying their taxes physically. If they don’t go to the counter and hand over the cash and get a receipt that is stamped they have not transacted. So there has to be a cultural change. As we celebrate Jamaica 55 we’re celebrating our history and our past, but we must also be prospecting in our outlook to embracing a digital culture as well.
My appeal to the Cabinet Office and to MSET is to ensure that there is a public relations programme around this to ensure that all Jamaicans use the technology, feel safe, feel a part of it, and feel that they can access the technology. I am anxious to see the marketing campaign that will support this because if not then this is just another website. The beauty of this website, however, is that if you go to this domain potentially anything pertaining to the government can be accessed through the site. There are some very lovely photos of Jamaican scenery which are used to pull attention to the website and the site is organised according to what our feedback says would be the priority needs of the users. And you can manipulate the site in many ways and you can drill down to get the information that you need. But that’s just phase one.
In phase one you will be able to download forms, there may be some forms that you can fill out digitally and you should be able to do many transactions online. All the transactions regarding paying your taxes and fines should be there. In the phases to come a lot of work will have to be done in the background and one of the critical things that we have started is if we are going to have e-citizenship you have to have e-identity. You have to have what we now call the National Identification System which will give you a unique identifier which you can traverse digitally or use physically in transactions. But once that is done and we are able to identify uniquely each citizen online and then we start to merge processes so that you don’t have to go to the tax office to get your compliance and then go to whichever agency to show that you are tax compliant and then you have to move to another agency, all of that can be eliminated by moving to a digital platform. At the end of this process, the problem I want to have is what do I do with the tax offices. What do we do with these buildings that we have built, because you wouldn’t need to jump into your car early morning, stand up in the long line? But we are on the way now, enough of the lamenting. I believe we have started on a good path. I know we have the competence, the capabilities and I know we have the ‘heart-ware’ that is the passion to get it done quickly and effectively.