Budget 2019

Presentation by Hon. Minister Catherine Hughes

“BUDGET 2019 gives us what we want”

Mr. Speaker, I rise to applaud the Honourable Minister of Finance and his team for delivering to this nation a national budget that provides astute measures for transforming the economy, empowering people and building sustainable communities.

After decades of under-development, Guyana is currently on the cusp of a social and economic transformation.  Significant discoveries of oil and gas hold the promise of realizing the “potential” I grew up hearing about, the development of an economy with a higher standard of living that has been the dream of Guyanese people for generations.

It is the vision of this government that the revenues from oil can build more bridges over our rivers, better equip our hospitals and schools, build proper roads in communities, overhaul and stabilize our electricity distribution system … install all the infrastructure citizens expect but have never been produced in the 52 years of our independence.  Even with our best intentions, all of these things certainly could not be realised in the 3 short years of the Coalition Government, but they will become reality in increments over time.

This Government recognizes the important role Technology plays in the transformation of any sector in today’s world, and it was for this precise reason that President Granger established the Ministry of Public Telecommunications two (2) short years ago.

This Coalition government is already introducing ICT’s across all sectors in Guyana, and it will allow us to resolve many of the developmental challenges Guyana has faced in the past.

There is no doubt that ICT’s can and will improve the lives of all Guyanese. We have seen it work in many countries like Singapore, China, Estonia and even Rwanda today. The transformational effect of ICT’s, especially on small developing states, and the corresponding positive impact on national development is real.

As a government we recognise that ICT is a fundamental cross-cutting component in the overall national vision to attain Developed Country status in the near future.  For us to achieve rapid and sustained development, it will require the growth of this sector and its application to all other sectors.

We at the Ministry of Public Telecommunications continue to develop policies, and foster initiatives and activities geared towards the development of an information-led society.  Our mandate is to create the enabling environment to support the implementation of ICTs in the public, private and productive sectors which will put the economy and the society on a sound footing.  It will allow every Guyanese to live a sustainable, dignified life with good health and general well-being; personal safety and prosperity – all intrinsic components of a “good life”. 

 

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry’s mandate is being implemented via programmes and the agencies under the purview of the Ministry.  These are:

  • A Policy and Administration department that includes the Arthur Chung Conference Centre
  • The National Data Management Authority  which is responsible  for our electronic government (eGovernment) programme
  • Our Industry and Innovation Department which supports the development of women, youth and the private sector
  • The National Frequency Management Unit which will be soon morphed into the Telecommunications Agency
  • The Guyana Post Office Corporation
  • The Public Utilities Commission

 

NON- CORE ICT AGENCIES

 

Arthur Chung Conference Centre

The Centre was fully rehabilitated and modernized in keeping with Article Two of the Implementation Agreement on the Rehabilitation of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre to the tune of US$7M in Grant Aid.  It was then returned to the People of Guyana on June 17, 2018 as a full-service facility with a slew of additional features and modern audio/visual technologies.  The Main Conference Hall is also now equipped with a new Digital Conference System able to translate and relay three (3) different languages simultaneously.
The ACCC has contributed to Guyana’s forward movement, enhancing our potential to become a premiere Conference Tourism Destination. Since its re-opening in June, the ACCC has hosted 37 events including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Air Transport Conference.  Early in January 2019, the ACCC will host of the 17th Session of the Committee for the Review of the implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CRIC17).

 

Guyana Post Office Corporation (GPOC)

The GPOC’s main objective is to help people, organisations and communities to grow by keeping them connected through transfer of mail, money and information. This has been a major challenge because the postal service in Guyana was neglected for more than two decades.  Today we have dilapidated infrastructures and outdated operations at many of our 64 post offices.

 

Nevertheless, the GPOC remains an active member of the Universal Postal Union and is benefitting from various types of assistance including knowledge sharing.  You see, the postal service is changing all over the world to stay in step with this emerging digital world.  Note that no country has abandoned its postal service, and Guyana will not do so.  What we’re doing is incrementally upgrading the facilities and operational systems across the country.

In 2018, the New Amsterdam Post Office was fully rehabilitated and equipped with adequate Wi-fi connection, air conditioning, weather protection, seating accommodation, and lavatory facilities, all to the tune of $23.2M. This Post office was re-commissioned in October 2018.  And, repairs to the Wismar Post Office will commence in December 2018.  This building was torched a few months ago by bandits after an unsuccessful robbery attempt.

In the coming year, GPOC will begin capital works at the Anna Regina and Soesdyke Post Offices valued at $38M. Through support from the NDMA, several Post Offices will also function as ICT hubs offering free internet access for customers and the general public/communities.

The activation of broadband Internet Access via Satellite for three of the most remote post offices is included in this plan.  The intention is to enable the PO’s to provide a swift and reliable service by computerizing all post offices and their departments’ services under one application suite.  To date, 54 Post Offices are already computerized.

Our biggest challenge is the administration of Pension payments. This continues to be a massive drain on the resources of the GPOC, and given the spate of robberies, the situation calls urgently for us to move quickly into new payment systems.

On Saturday 12/01, a safe inside the Charity Post Office was torched and $2.2M was stolen.  Over the last two years – 2016 to 2018, $8.3M in total have been stolen from PO’s.  It is therefore clear that if our postal services are to become financially viable again, one change has to be the reduction of the amount of cash it holds at any given time.

Mr. Speaker, this Government pays homage to the stellar services given by our senior citizens and pensioners to our dear country.  The MOPT/GPOC are collaborating with the Ministry of Social Protection and the banking institutions to implement a project designed for the convenience of our senior citizens.  The first test of this new system will take place early in 2019.

 

It includes money transfers to bank accounts, payments by cheque, and through several of the newer micro financial payment systems like Mobile Money.  We also recognise that a significant number of citizens who are approaching the age of retirement are already digitally competent.  The new system is anticipated to work well in the future.

 

And to facilitate easy mail delivery, the GPOC launched their Mailbox sensitization campaign earlier this year.  I must take this opportunity to urge all citizens to install a letter box at their homes if only to ensure that the delivery of their mail takes place without hindrance.

 

Public Utilities Commission (PUC)

The Public Utilities Commission (the Commission) is a statutory body first established under the Public Utilities Act (PUC) 1990 which was repealed and replaced by the PUC Act No. 10 of 1999. The PUC has regulatory, advisory and enforcement powers under the Law, along with the power to initiate and conduct investigations into the operations and standards of service of all public utilities under its purview, i.e. the Guyana Power and Light Inc., Guyana Water Inc., Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Co. Ltd., and U-Mobile (Cellular) Inc. or Digicel.  The PUC continues to sensitize, serve and collaborate with Consumers and Operators alike.

 

For the period January 2018 to October 2018, the Commission received 487 complaints against utilities and are actively investigating 349 of them.  Going into 2019, the PUC’s programme includes:-

 

  • Extensive IT upgrade
  • Extensive Customer Service training
  • Internal Workshops and staff sensitization for liberalization of the Telecoms Sector
  • Re-tooling of Complaints Department
  • Office of Economic Research to be opened by February 2019
  • Activities to raise the public profile of the Commission

 

National Frequency Management Unit/Guyana Telecommunications Agency

The National Frequency Management Unit will be absorbed into the Guyana Telecommunications Agency in early 2019 as liberalization of the sector approaches.  Its main function is to regulate and oversee the entire telecoms sector including frequency allocation and management.  The ‘skeleton’ Telecommunications Agency is already in place.

National Data Management Authority  

The eGovernment initiative:  Members of this Hon. House will recall that the National ICT fiber optic network was first built by a Chinese IT firm in 2012 and it lay dormant for over one year even after it was officially handed over to the former government.  This government put it to good use from September 2015.

It is this same eGovernment fibre optic network that the NDMA has used to provide secure, reliable internet access to:-

  • 116 government ministries and agencies improving their internal operations and the quality of service given to our citizens
  • 79 Public Internet Access Points (PIAPs) …

and very soon all our Regional Administration and NDC offices, fire stations, police stations and outposts will be inter-connected, thereby improving the efficiency of the nation’s security.

Mr. Speaker, we fully understand that digital technologies in Government’s work readily provide citizens with faster access to public services.  We have embraced the concept of electronic government as the most effective means of delivering government’s services to the citizenry in a timely, efficient and transparent manner.  Our level of commitment to this course of action is reflected in the 2019 allocation of approximately GY$1.9 Billion dollars (US$8.9M).  We have initiated two major projects:

  1. The ICT Access and eServices for Hinterland, Poor and Remote Communities Project at a cost of GY$3.7 Billion ($US17M) over five years
  2. The National Broadband Expansion Project valued at GY$8.3 Billion (US$37.6M) over three years

The designs for these 2 projects were based on solid research and preparation.  In 2016 an ICT Baseline Assessment was done to determine what digital services were required in the identified poor, remote and Hinterland regions. We then prioritized and aligned their needs with the appropriate eGovernment initiatives.  This resulted in the formulation of six strategic eGovernment objectives that are aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Guyana’s Green State Development Strategy, and our ICT policy.  The latter will be presented to this House early next year.

The year 2018 culminated almost 36 months of establishing strategic ICT partnerships through which we leveraged the knowledge and experiences of digital governance vanguards to propel Guyana into a modern state where all government services are easily accessible online.  The agreement for ICT assistance and expertise, among other things, which was signed on 17th October 2018 with the Government of Estonia, is a perfect example of this. This initiative with Estonia has received unprecedented support from the eGovernance Academy of Estonia.  Their leaders worked with us to develop a Digital Governance Roadmap that will shift Guyana into a more modern state.

It highlights four key areas of development that will ensure Guyanese benefit from eGovernance.  These are:-

  • Integration of the population registry into the eGovernment framework
  • Establishment of unique digital identities for every citizen of Guyana
  • Initiatives to secure information exchanged/residing at government agencies
  • Listing of all available Government services that should be connected to the secure government information exchange

This Roadmap, coupled with allocated resources will be used to manage the existing eGovernment network on the Coast and into the Hinterland and remote areas of Guyana.

Guyana has failed for decades to provide Internet connectivity and proper telecommunication services to our hinterland and interior communities.  While MP Irfaan Ali was shouting about wasteful spending in his opening presentation, I couldn’t help but remember the $2 Billion Guyana dollars that his administration (PPP) spent on the fibre optic cable that it landed in Region 9 from Brazil, a delicate cable that was badly laid, exposed to the elements along a section of the 445.3 km Linden-Lethem corridor.

The cable was irreparably broken in hundreds of places.  This administration was forced to abandon it after we managed to retrieve it from the civil contractor to whom the PPP had gifted it in early 2015.  We searched the whole length of the cable but could not find one salvageable section that could have connected even Annai to Aishalton.  This $2B cable fiasco put on hold the hopes of our hinterland residents who were counting on it to provide them with good internet and telecommunications services.  So we set about finding several ways to take the Internet to parts of the hinterland via satellite and other services which we are paying dearly for.

MP Joe Hamilton has been shouting down the Ministers’ presentations with “corruption and fraud”.  The only thing wrong with his heckling is the direction he is aiming at.  His comments should be thrown in the other direction, at his fellow PPP MP’s who are well known around the world for the inventive acts of fraud and corruption they perpetrated while they were in Government.  

Let me remind the citizens of Guyana that this Government is firm on its anti-corruption stance.  We recognize that it is a major challenge in our society and across all sectors from the health care worker who removes tablets from a health centre, to the big businessman who prefers to offer a bribe rather than pay his due taxes.  But the increased use of Technology can and will change this retardation to development.  Technology enhances transparency and accountability, the two most popular words in this government’s lexicon.

The establishment of 131 functioning ICT hubs to date, and the on-going programme to connect up more villages and communities in 2019 is a pillar of development.   To strengthen the eGovernment and community connectivity programmes, Budget 2019 has allocated funds to construct a state-of-the-art Data Centre to complement existing data storage/management facilities.  It is going to:-

  • Host all future government online services
  • Deploy a secure and seamless data exchange platform among government entities
  • Collaborate with sister Ministries to implement eLearning, eHealth and Safe City solutions across this nation, among other initiatives

These measures are part of the overall effort to implement a whole-of-government approach to reform service delivery.

Government’s investment in ICTs is continually bearing fruit, especially via the Citizen’s eParticipation Platform.   This platform, when commissioned, will be accessible at www.government.gy. It is a suite of Internet-based tools that include:

(1) Government of Guyana Online Portal

(2) Catalogue of Transactional Public Services that will feature download-able and online fillable forms

(3) Complaints and incident reporting tools for citizens to inform government about the quality of public services received, and to make recommendations for improving same 

The latter (the Complaints app) was created by a team of young (private sector) tech experts who had submitted it as their assignment for the MOPT’s 2017 Hackathon.  Today my Ministry continues to work with these young entrepreneurs who continue to do amazing things.

ICT seems to be a whole other world with fantastic developments that our naysayers keep themselves totally oblivious to.  For example, visitors to Guyana can now apply online for their visas through the Department of Citizenship’s website www.doc.gov.gyThis enhances Guyana’s appeal for Tourism, Investments and Commerce.

During 2019, my Ministry will deploy an additional twenty-five online-fillable forms which citizens in Guyana and the diaspora could utilize to transact business and personal affairs with government, and through which they could access public services.  These public service eForms are augmenting traditional methods of access to government services, so much that they are likely to become the preferred means of communication between citizens and Government.  Some of the services that will be available online in 2019 are:

  1. Business Registration (Ministry of Legal Affairs/Commercial Land Registry)
  2. Police Clearance  (Guyana Police Force)
  3. Sickness Benefit Claims/Medical Care (NIS)
  4. House Lot Application  (Ministry of Communities – Dept. of Housing)
  5. Job Seeker Registration (Ministry of Social Protection)
  6. Job Vacancy Registration  (Ministry of Social Protection)
  7. Nursery and Primary School Application (Ministry of Education)
  8. Old Age Pension (Ministry of Social Protection)
  9. Passport Application (Department of Citizenship, MOTP)
  10. Registration of Birth, Marriage, and Death (General Registration Office)

In addition to e-Forms, several government agencies such as the GRA, the NIS and the Guyana School of Agriculture (GSA), have already placed their services and forms online.  Today citizens and business owners can complete their taxes on downloadable smart forms and submit them online.

eLEARNING: Through collaboration with the Ministry of Education, 11 Smart Classrooms will be set up in remote communities, connected via the eGovernment network and some by satellite, to classrooms in the city.  This equalizes the quality of education delivery, and allows students in far inland Regions to actively participate in educational programs and classes taught by teachers in any part of Guyana utilizing another Smart classroom.  Further, the lesson materials will be available online so they could be accessed at anytime, from anywhere. Students utilizing the 11 smart classrooms will also be provided with over 400 tablets, and any other smart device that is Internet-ready could be used as well, of course with the appropriate authentication.

TELEMEDICINE:- In 2019, the enhanced capacity and resilience of the eGovernment Network will provide telemedicine facilities to more than 150 of our most remote health posts across the country. This will enable health professionals to diagnose ailments in real-time collaboration with health professionals in or close to the city.  This significantly improves the accuracy of diagnoses and consequently the quality of life for citizens.

SAFE CITY SOLUTIONS:- As part of the National Broadband Project, MOPT will implement a US$8.3 Million (GY$1.8B) Safe City Solution. As a Government, we are aware of the fear that permeates some sections of our society that is based on the horror of crime.  Although crime statistics have declined, the horror stories continue.  It is clear that the application of Technologie to crime fighting is the only way to combat it to take a real life bite out of crime.

We are therefore delighted that the Safe City component of our National Broadband project will add a modern fibre optic network to the existing eGovernment Network, in order to sustain 365 surveillance cameras which will be deployed strategically along the Demerara Coast at 110 locations.

The surveillance cameras are just one component of the Unified Command Centre.  The others include Emergency hotlines (911), Emergency Command Communications, and on-the-ground (field) accessibility.

Digital licence plates are also in the offing as well as Internet-ready police cars outfitted with dash cams and Mobile Dispatching Systems.

We are confident that these initiatives will improve transparency & accountability, and enhance security for citizens, residents, tourists and businesses in and around our capital, and on the route between Georgetown and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.

ePARTICIPATION

In keeping with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal [SDG #9] Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and [SDG #10] Reduced Inequalities], we have developed an eParticipation programme to reduce the digital divide at all levels – both externally between Guyana and other countries; and locally, among coastal, Hinterland, poor and remote communities.  Our eParticipation programme aims to empower citizens, giving them the ability to:-

  • Better interact with government
  • Readily access public services
  • Play a more integral role in the furtherance of good governance, transparency, accountability, democracy and sustainable development

Mr.  Speaker, may I remind this honourable house that these challenges existed long before 2015, and the empty buildings at Rupertee, Tuschen and Enmore are legacies of the former government’s half-hearted attempt to bring Internet connectivity to Guyana. But, as I’ve had to cause to say over and over, WE ARE FIXING THIS ANOMALY!

Currently, citizens in Hinterland, poor and remote communities have limited to no access to the web as those of us on the Coast. This means that a significant percentage of the population is excluded from the benefits accessing information online.

The sum of $1.1B is allocated to ensure that all citizens have equitable access to the Internet, and to improve the delivery of government services. As such, wherever private providers do not offer telecommunication services (to digitally excluded communities), this Government is going to fill those gaps with free Internet access.

We are currently providing free Internet connectivity to 18 Hinterland and indigenous communities, namely: Mabaruma, Port Kaituma, Matthew’s Ridge, Santa Rosa and Baramita in Region 1; Mainstay/Whyaka in Region 2; Orealla in Region 6; Bartica and Waramadong in Region 7; Mahdia and Paramakatoi, in Region 8; Iwokrama, Karasabai, Annai, St Ignatius, Sand Creek, Aishalton and Masakenari/Konashen in Region 9.

Network access is available at government agencies and the Regional Democratic Council offices in some of these communities. In 2019, we will provide Internet access to a further 120 indigenous communities including Chinoweing in Region 7, Chenapou in Region 8, and Wowetta in Region 9.

Mr. Speaker, many Hinterland and poor communities also do not have reliable power so from January 2019 we will provide alternative energy solutions such as solar power at ICT Hubs in communities such as Batavia, Region 7; Micobie, Region 8; Baramita, Region 1; Kabakaburi, Region 2; Orealla, Region 6; and Sand Creek, Region 9.

In implementing President Granger’s vision, the NDMA provides free Internet access to over 12,000 users monthly in remote and under-developed communities countrywide.  Up to November 30, 2018, we have operationalized 131 ICT hubs and 79 PIAPS. In 2019 the programmes has identified locations for additional hubs to benefit another 50,000 citizens.  

Public Wi-Fi will be also be available at an additional 110 outdoor locations (hotspots), and residents and tourists will have free access to the Internet and approximately 200 online government services. These initiatives will improve our peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

Allow me to cite a few memorable events that make my point:-

  1. Our teams went up the Canje River to the remote community of Baracara, located some 42 miles from New Amsterdam, Region 6. This community is home to approximately 350 persons but the population is declining rapidly due to the lack of modern amenities, employment and other factors. When the ICT hub was set up in Baracara last October, a resident said very pointedly that he felt like a Guyanese for the first time.  He now had ready access to information on things happening in Guyana.

From our standpoint, the residents can now learn more about improving their agricultural practices; potential entrepreneurs will get information on how to start up and sustain a business, and in so doing, Baracara could minimize their migration problem.

  1. Residents of Yakusari, Black Bush Polder in Region 6 welcomed their ICT Hub in June 2018 and they expressed the hope that access to more information via the Internet would further boost their rice farming knowledge and practices.
  2. In Parika EBE, before their ICT Hub was completed, residents had to pay to get online. When we commissioned the Hub, one father said to me that he ensures that his children visit the hub every day to go online so they could learn new things, free of cost and in a safe space.
  3. In Paramakatoi, Region 8, a teacher described the ICT Hub as ‘extremely useful’ given that libraries and schools in the Hinterland do not have access to new, updated materials and books. Free Internet at the Paramakatoi Secondary school now allows teachers and students to get new information, and the same research material available to students on the coast.  They can now perform better at internal and external examinations.

Access to the Internet in general is improving our people through online learning and research, telemedicine, and it provides a global market for innovative entrepreneurs and service providers at home.

 

CYBER SECURITY

The Government and people of Guyana are becoming increasingly dependent on the Internet and its applications to drive social and economic development.  However, rising cyber security concerns, especially with the constant emergence of new threats, plus strong worldwide growth in online usage, are expected to increase our exposure to security risks.  This alone is driving our need for cyber security measures.

The 2019 budgeted investment in Cyber security exceeds $100M.  This sum is for us to implement critical measures to protect government’s and citizens’ information that are accessible online.

NDMA is currently refining an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS) to enhance the registry functions of government entities.  This project is intended to improve the preservation of paper source documents; it is meant to streamline workflow and facilitate and secure authorised information sharing within and among government agencies.  One of the current pilot projects is the digitization of the Land Registry’s property records scheduled for completion in 2019.

 

Next year will also see the National Archives, the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority, the Ministry of Communities and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs benefiting from deployed Electronic Document Management Systems (EDMS).  A significant portion of these projects involves the scanning of millions of paper-based documents.

 

To carry out this programme, the MOPT has employed over 100 university graduates as ICT engineers and technicians, and we have provided in-depth training for 40 innovative young people in the areas of document digitization preparation, scanning, and data migration.  In 2019, we will hire an additional 60 to participate in the expansion of the pilots to every ministry in Guyana.

 

We have also taken a strategic approach to the training and sensitization of public servants and citizens to ensure that everyone is cognizant and prepared to interact with and use the eServices and government information systems; and to create a knowledgeable, highly marketable, trainable, ICT-ready workforce that can compete successfully in a 21st Century production environment.

 

TRAINING

We recognize that 75% of jobs worldwide by year 2025 will require some knowledge of ICT’s.  Providing training in ICT skills is therefore a priority for the MOPT.  To date we have trained 400 young people in ICT literacy in Region 2, 3, 5 and 6.

 

We also recognize that internationally, girls are less likely to choose a career in technology (ICT) so we are doing our bit to change this precept.  For me personally, the ice breaker was the 12 week “Guyanese Girl Code” training programme held in the second quarter of 2018.   We advertised and we expected about 20 responses from girls between the ages of 11 and 14.  We received 56 applications.  I’m happy to say that all 56 were accommodated with assistance from UG’s computer centre and MOE’s NCERD.  This Coding programme complemented our very active Girls in ICT annual interventions.

 

This year a group from Bygeval Secondary ECD developed an app to measure the moisture content in farming soil.  This app has a direct relationship to the agricultural management techniques app which was designed by girls at the Anna Regina and North Ruimveldt Secondary schools. Female students at several high schools around the country have developed apps for health monitoring and gaming to name 2.  They displayed them at an exhibition on International Girls in ICT Day in May at the Giftland Mall.

 

Not to leave our boys out, MOPT conducted Code Camps during the August holidays targeting 47 boys and girl from age 9 in Berbice; 30 in Essequibo and 50 in Linden, in addition to similar training in held in Kuru Kururu, L/SH.

A one week camp for children from Sophia was equally successful.  They had an introduction to Microbits which is an interactive introduction to Programming.

Basic literary skills training was conducted for children at residential homes in East La Penitence and Vreed-en-hoop (the Ruimveldt Children’s Home and Save ‘R Kids orphanage in Cornelia Ida, WCD).

A web development course held at the A+ Computer Centre at Vreed-en-Hoop has given several of the young participants the skills to design and develop websites.  Already one enterprising teenager has received a contract to build a website for a private sector company.  This is the kind of collaboration we intend to push in 2019.

In addition, we have provided training in basic computer literacy for adults including women’s business groups in several communities, as well as a train- the-trainers programme in Lethem, Region 9.

MOPT continues to collaborate with STEMGuyana which first introduced Robotics training to young people in Guyana. Late in November, MOPT collaborated with STEMGuyana and the Department of Youth and Sport to train young people in STEM and Robotics using 35 of our ICT hubs in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10.  It is going to give young people across much of the nation the opportunity to receive free training in the core subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics, which are the bases for Robotics.

 

ICTs for persons with disabilities

Government is committed to be inclusionary, to build capacity, and provide an improved quality of life for every Guyanese including persons living with disabilities.  In 2019 we will be embarking on numerous initiatives that will greatly impact the lives of these people, encourage them to live up to their full potential as productive citizens.

The availability of technology by these groups was highlighted in a series of workshops held as part of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union’s ICT Roadshow in June 2018 in Guyana.  Here, a visually impaired master trainer from Trinidad conducted workshops attended by over 85 disabled persons and their teachers.  He demonstrated the accessibility features to be found on smart handsets as well as the telephone apps developed for the sight and hearing impaired.

In 2019, the intervention for this grouping includes a National Web Accessibility Training Programme and a Train-the-Trainers programme for the Blind scheduled for February. The key stakeholders include the MOPT, University of Guyana, Ministry of Education, the National Commission on Disabilities, the PWDs community, and the wider population.

 

E Agriculture is also receiving special focus.  It highlights the integration of ICT into seeding, fertilizing, reaping, husbandry, watering, etc.  eAgriculture was the second biggest component of the afore-mentioned CTU ICT Roadshow held in Guyana this year.  A team of Agri experts who specialize in ICT-related interventions came to Guyana and travelled to the No. 47 Village in Berbice to share their knowledge and the apps currently available with more than 150 farmers.

A few of my fellow MP’s were scoffing yesterday at talk about drone technologies, but I am pleased to say that our farmers get it.  They understand that new technologies will save them time and money, and that seeding and fertilizing with drones happens in the agricultural centers of the world.  I’m happy to say that a young drone operator is now selling his services to a few of those farmers.

PREPARING OUR YOUTH FOR THEIR FUTURE

But why all this talk about improved internet connectivity and improved broadband access for government services?  It is because easy access to the Internet prepares our population for Guyana’s transition to becoming an exporter of petroleum.  This is because we are preparing our population – the young and the productive, to be tech-savvy citizens which this digital world requires.  

We continue to work with the Ministry of Education to incorporate ICTs into primary and secondary education.  We have provided Internet connectivity for 175 primary schools; 111 secondary schools (Kato and Orealla Secondary, Woodley Park, Novar Secondary and West Ruimveldt were most recently connected in October); along with 35 tertiary, technical and vocational institutions.

 

We have also connected 11 Student Dormitories and Hostels – Amerindian Students Residence (Liliendaal), Amerindian Hostel (Princes Street), Anna Regina Secondary Dormitory, Charity Secondary Dormitory, Aurora Secondary Dormitory, New Amsterdam Amerindian Hostel, President’s College Dormitory, Guyana School of Agriculture Dormitory, Orealla Student Dormitory, Amerindian Residence (Mahaicony), and the Amerindian students Dormitory (Mahaicony).  In 2019 going forward, we intend to improve the quality of Internet services at these learning institutions.

Further, the much anticipated Centre of Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) should be commissioned in the first quarter of 2019.  It will function as an ICT finishing school offering specially tailored courses to public sector employees. It is a coordinated creation of the Governments of Guyana and India, and the course offerings will bridge the gap between the worlds of work and academia.

By August 2019, the first batch of public servants possessing the necessary IT and Engineering degrees will begin advanced courses in Business Computing, Web Technologies, JAVA, Database, Android, Linux, Network Security, Data Communication and Networking & Office Automation.  These professionals will gain more practical knowledge regarding work in the public service in coordination with the ICT productive sector.  Approximately GY$46M in foreign and local funding has been allocated to this project.

We’ll continue to facilitate continuous workplace training and enable ready access to ICT training opportunities in government and in communities.  The Ministry, through the NDMA, has established an online training platform available via the eGovernment network.  This platform offers over 150 self-paced courses in IT-related areas such as:

 

  • Network Administration and Engineering
  • Systems Administration and Engineering
  • Programming and Development
  • Project Management

 

And finally, Training is also a component of our 3 year, US$1.1M (GY$242M) National Broadband project.  The modules will cover all of the products and technologies used (knowledge transfer), and will include certification opportunities. Over 40 technical personnel are expected to participate, including IT personnel from Ministries and Agencies.

 

HUMAN CAPITAL THE GREATEST ASSET

Every country’s greatest asset is its human capital, and this government continues to keep our promise to advance opportunities for Guyana’s youths since it is very clear that ICTs will become the influential force for social and economic change.

ICT  Development Projects

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications is about to begin two major projects – A Venture Capital Fund and an ICT Park. At December 2018 we were on the process of recruiting Consultancy services to conduct feasibility studies.

Our IT entrepreneurs are emerging with new and innovative ideas to foster economic growth and development, and this government is providing the opportunities they need. Entrepreneurs face numerous challenges, specifically in the financial arena, especially wrt accessing loans.  This is the underlying purpose of establishing a Venture Capital Fund which will facilitate small and medium sized enterprises that meet the criteria.

The existence of an ICT Park in Guyana is a step in the direction towards modernizing a society. Investors around the world want to be able to produce at competitive costs in an environment that satisfies their needs.  The ICT Park will definitely make Guyana a viable option for regional and international investors to extend their ICT and other lines of business.

CONCLUSION

BUDGET 2019 gives us what we want

What do we look for in a budget? It’s simple.  We all want a little more in our pockets and we got that … more for Pensioners … more in public assistance … a raise of the threshold for Corporate Tax … reduction in income tax … and we go those things and more.  It’s there for all to see, irrespective of the hysteria and the shouting of doom and gloom that permeate the conversations led by the Opposition.

In Paris citizens have been looting and burning, and in California in November forest fires burned for days turning whole communities into ashes.  Where does Guyana sit in this often troublesome world?  I’ll tell you.  This nation has been given a windfall.  The Gods are smiling down upon us saying, “Guyana, this is your time now.  You have endured the pains of under-development, racial intolerance, poor infrastructure, a culture of ‘runnings’ and corruption.

But WE GUYANESE HAVE TO SEE THAT WE’RE ABOUT TO EXPERIENCE A DRAMATIC CHANGE!  We have to see past the media reports and fake news that dumb our citizens with fear.  Our own people are trying to steal our hopes and dreams, and it is unfortunate that it is leading to some despondency among the population.  One foreigner remarked on it recently when he asked why, with all the good things about to happen to Guyana, why are the people so unhappy … and uncertain?

So … it is so important that Guyanese – all of us – understand that this nation has become the Center of Hope in this part of the world.  Our neighbours in the Caribbean see it; our trading partners and international investors know it.  All we have to do is work together as one people, and BELIEVE IT!

If the Opposition is truly interested in representing its constituencies, they must now return to the parliamentary communities that they refuse to participate in, to the seats on the state boards that they refuse to occupy.  Talk is always cheap and it is easy to criticize.  Theatrical outbursts are easy to stage, but that leave us nowhere.  An eye for an eye makes us all blind!

Mr. Speaker, Budget 2019 provides a vision and a roadmap to meet the whole- of-Government aspirations of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications since ICT is a cross-cutting element of development.  Mr. Speaker, I therefore strongly recommend passing Budget 2019.

 I thank you.

 

Hon. Catherine A. Hughes MP