Emerging and Transformative Sectors in a Knowledge-Driven Economy

MINISTRY OF PUBLIC TELECOMMUNICATIONS

MINISTER’S PRESENTATION

BUDGET 2018

Hon. Catherine A. Hughes, MP

 

Emerging and Transformative Sectors in a Knowledge-Driven Economy

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Speaker, Members of this honourable House, I rise in wholehearted support of Budget 2018 which is very aptly themed: “The Journey towards the Good Life Continues”.

This administration’s approach to governance, to growing the Guyana economy, to improving the lives and livelihoods of our citizens no matter where they live, has been clear and concise since 2015.  And I will outline our transformational initiatives in the telecommunications sector that is already giving our citizens a taste of the good life.

Mr. Speaker, despite all the hot air emanating from the other side of the house, and their continuous attempts to deceive our people, even they cannot argue convincingly that our country’s infrastructural developments are taking place and producing a better nation. The strides made towards ICT innovation in Guyana are producing a new Information Communication Technology industry that is setting up our young citizens to play active roles in their own lives, and in the development of our traditional and emerging industries.

Mr. Speaker, It is important to note that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) recognise the importance of Information, Communication, Technology ICT in development. With target 9 of the SDG’s aiming to: “Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and striving to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020.”

Former UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon, went on to state that “Information and communication technologies have long been recognized as key enablers for bridging the digital divide and achieving the three dimensions of sustainable development — economic growth, environmental balance and social inclusion” and many today consider access to the internet a basic human right that should be a priority for all states.”

ICT Innovation for Government and all industrial sectors

It is against this background that the mandate of the Ministry of Public Telecommunications is to transform Guyana into a knowledge-based, well educated society with people and businesses that are productive and globally competitive.  ICT has become the main ingredient for development all over the world so it was imperative that Guyana and all of its peoples become proficient, and able to partake in the exciting future that lies ahead of us.

Mr. Speaker, 2017 has been a hectic year in the Ministry of Public Telecommunications.  We continue to face a few challenges but by and large, the Ministry has achieved most of the benchmarks we had set ourselves.

ICT Access for Hinterland, Poor and Remote Communities project

Based on a very detailed survey that was completed in December 2016, we designed a 5-year project to take the Internet and Government’s e-Services to our Hinterland, Poor and Remote Communities.  This 17 Million US Dollar project is being funded under the Guyana/Norway Agreement by the GRIF fund, and it will be managed by the UNDP.  The programme has had the benefit of public review and consultation in June of this year and just last Friday we were able to sign on the dotted line with the requisite funding now intact and the project now set to start in January 2018.

Mr. Speaker, the benefits for our people in the identified communities are tremendous.  Over 89,000 residents in approximately 170 communities will have access to more than 200 ICT hubs to be created over the 5-year period.  They will have access to online public eServices such as filing tax returns and applying for business compliance certificates.

Mr. Speaker, while ICT plays a central role, the ultimate goal is to enhance the sustainable human development of these residents while promoting a national green economy.

NDMA – 2017 Accomplishments and 2018 Plans

Mr. Speaker, in 2017 we completed the restructuring of the National Data Management Authority (NDMA) and merged it with the executing arm of the Ministry, the eGovernment Unit.  This was to enable us to satisfy government’s commitment to improve the delivery of public services as well as citizen-to-government interaction.  The re-purposed NDMA is:-

  • Executing all eGovernance programmes
  • Leveraging eGovernment as the platform for sustainable economic and social development
  • Developing an information-led, transparent society in which most citizens will have access to the internet – improving inclusiveness, accountability and good governance

Mr. Speaker, in 2017, the NDMA focused on a large number of initiatives which included:-

  1. Operating, expanding and securing the national eGovernment Network – which provides internet connectivity
  2. Utilizing this network so that today I can say that we have provided free internet access to 53 government ministries and agencies; to more than 95 secondary schools; the 3 campuses of the University of Guyana and the Cyril Potter College of Education; to over 37 technical/vocational institutions including the Carnegie School of Home Economics; to the offices of Regional Education Officers, and to several NGO’s.
  1. Mr Speaker I am excited to boast that the NDMA has worked closely with communities and villages in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9 and 10 and has set up 86 ICT Hubs (and counting) with computers donated by Government thus providing nearly 200,000 citizens with access to the worldwide web.

Mr. Speaker, the launching of these hubs have been a regular feature often reported in the daily newspapers. Drop in to any of these hubs and you will see a flurry of children and teenagers rushing to complete homework or just to play.  So rest assured this was achieved in 2017 and is not fake news.

  1. We have also connected Regional offices, public hospitals and airports. The Guyana Police Force, the GRA, GPL, GDF and other service organisations are now connected to the Internet and to each other via 23 virtual private networks.

Mr. Speaker – finally after some construction delays, the NDMA has completed the rehabilitation of the Center for Excellence in Information Technology with support from the Government of India to the tune of 70 Million dollars. Located on the UG campus we are preparing to commission it by March of 2018.  The Centre of Excellence in IT will bridge the gap between academia and industry providing specialised ICT training to develop competencies among Public Sector ICT professionals. And even though it has not yet been commissioned, it has begun to fulfil its purpose.  So far, 3 training courses have been conducted:

1) A 40-day specialised course on the operations of the national eGovernment Network with over 25 participants from various Government Agencies

2)  A 4-week beginners Data Entry course with 30 graduates from the ICT Training Workshop for Youths spearheaded by First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Granger

3) A skills upgrading programme for Webmasters employed by Government

Once fully commissioned, the Centre will offer a range of industry related courses, and over 100 students are expected to graduate in 2018.

  • The NDMA is simultaneously providing technical support services to almost all the Ministries especially, Education, Finance, Health, Infrastructure and Social Protection.
  1. The Agency is spearheading the expansion of the national e Government fibre optic network from the Coastland (Charity to Skeldon) to inland areas.
  2. While we await the commencement of a nationwide expansion programme as part of a National Broadband Expansion project (to be executed by Huawei Technologies of China), the networks have been expanded to inland/hinterland locations via private lease-circuit agreements with 2 providers – Digicel and Imon Wireless Solutions.
  1. Digicel’s lease this year has provided internet services to Linden, Bartica, Kwakwani, Mahdia, Port Kaituma, Santa Rosa, Matthew’s Ridge, Baramita and Mabaruma … along with satellite services to 9 hinterland locations – Waramadong, Masakenari, Aishalton, Annai, St. Ignatius, Iwokrama, Sand Creek, Karasabai, and Paramakatoi.

Mr. Speaker it is important to note that contrary to the fake news disseminated by my misinformed honourable colleague MP Pauline Sukhai at a recent press conference – places like Masakanari have never had internet connectivity before …never… so this is not some recycled failed PPP project.

That the honourable member MP Burton would come to this house and dare to criticize the pace of ICT development to the hinterland is a travesty. Mr. Speaker, today we pay a premium price to connect these regions…that is our commitment.  The PPP’s commitment was to build a fire.  Instead our indigenous residents, and all of us, saw over One Billion dollars go down the drain – nothing but damaged cable to show for it.  Where did those Billions of dollars go … and you talk about corruption?

Mr Speaker, now they can shout in the usual abusive manner, “you’re in power now, fix it!”  Yes, we are fixing it. We are going across the country, across all sectors, picking up the pieces … and fixing it. It is taking longer than we thought, but we will fix it.

Mr. Speaker, let me inform another disseminator of more fake news – the honourable MP Gillian Burton.  Yesterday in this honourable house the member stated that there has been little ICT development.  I quote her, “ICT development has been marking time”, but I will remind my colleague that she got her years mixed up!  Yes, in 2012 the government fibre optic network through which we are increasing internet connectivity, was completed but it lay dormant or dead for three years, i.e. until this government came along and operationalised it in the latter part of 2015.

And Mr. Speaker, I must address even more fake news thrown at unsuspecting Guyanese by none other than the Most Honourable, thankfully the former Minister of Amerindian Affairs who, at a PPP press conference recently, expressed the view that Budget 2018 had nothing to bridge the gap between the hinterland and the coast. Well I have informed you to the contrary so spread the word.  Next time, honourable MP on the opposition side, just the facts please, just the facts.

I want to reassure my indigenous brothers and sisters that we are committed to you.  We have come to several of your villages providing sustainable internet access that will allow you to sell your hammocks, tomato ketchup, tourism services, to participate on line, to learn and grow.

This year’s budget provides $50 Million for improved solar solutions for the ICT hubs in your areas; $15 Million to procure more fibre optic cables, $16 Million for more Internet Access Points, and $20 Million for power redundancy at our Data Centre.

We have provided internet to your students at the Bina Hill Educational Institute, and to St. Ignatius High School – both of which I visited personally.  You are now operating six of your own radio stations that inform, educate and entertain your communities … and these are all new, delivered by the same AFC+APNU government that those on the ‘other side’ love to hate!

  1. This year we also expanded the eGov network to include 42 IFMAS agencies thereby improving the operations of the Ministry of Finance, its branches and agencies. We are now hosting government websites and secure email accounts.

Mr. Speaker, the establishment of Community ICT Hubs provides an invaluable opportunity for the poorest and the most vulnerable in any community to visit a centre, access free internet, and receive training and support.

This single development has started the important process of transformation to a smarter digital Guyana, and in 2018 it will be bringing tremendous benefits to education in the areas of online learning, in health with internet-connected ‘smart’ health centres offering better health services, smart classrooms in the hinterland where we have struggled for decades with insufficient teachers and facilities that have been absent in hinterland and interior communities. These hubs also provide an important foundation in the development of entrepeneurial activities as any potential entrepreneur can access social media for marketing purposes.

  1. Under the Improving Digital Equity, Access and Learning (IDEAL) programme that H.E. President Granger launched in 2016, the expanded network is providing Internet access to 11 secondary schools in these hinterland and remote locations.
  1. In 2017, 10 new hubs were commissioned in Berbice alone as far as Glasgow and Smithfield, and 9 in the Linden area. Pilot Public Internet Access Points were set up at the Aquatic Centre, the National Track and Field Centre, and the headquarters of the NDMA.  And in early 2018 we will be working with a few NGO’s and the Ministry of Social Protection to provide safe Internet to our Children’s Homes so that they too could benefit.
  1. Mr Speaker, you may already know that CSEC now requires that SBA’s be submitted online so access to the internet is vital. I’ve been meeting and talking with vibrant, excited young people across Guyana and they get it. They are Guyana’s chosen generation and will do wonders with all that we are giving to them!

Here’s what they have been doing:

IntellectStorm – The developers of www.directory.gy, all below the age of 35, developed a product to provide directions for events and other locations during the Jubilee celebrations. They have also developed www.payments.gy.  This product allows users to pay for commodities online using GTT’s Mobile Money service.  And with the current World Bank/Government of Guyana/Bank of Guyana financial payment systems, this project is well underway, one which Honourable member Burton seems not to know about … we ARE tackling the challenges of paying for services online.

Version 75 – The winners of the 2016 Hackathon, has developed a product that allows citizens to electronically alert relevant government agencies about issues that occur in communities, e.g. crime, damaged roads, burst water mains, power outages, etc.

InnoSys – The winners of the 2017 CodeSprint developed an online Agricultural Commodities Exchange to match buyers and sellers of agricultural products.  This software is going to make business to business, and farmer to buyer transactions so easy.

InnoSys – The winners of the 2017 Hackathon developed an online Tax Collection and Payments System specifically for the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils.

Then there is a young lady selling tamarind balls online to the diaspora, another in Surama selling her hand-made hammocks online, and a week ago I learnt of a woman selling and promoting her fruit delivery service online.  Six weeks ago we had over 300 students and ICT enthusiasts at our Internet Week participating in seminars conducted by the best ICT experts in the Caribbean and Guyana.

During this period, other digital entrepreneurs have emerged.  Two companies developed local versions of Uber for Guyanese to book taxis via their mobile phones. WeOwnSpace is another local entrepreneurship hive, launched in collaboration with this Ministry.  These young people conceived and executed DevX 2017, a digital exposition highlighting the work and products of local ICT entrepreneurs and their products.

All of these enterprises emerged as a result of the enabling programmes developed by the Ministry of Public Telecommunications, and out of the young people’s will to succeed.  The Ministry continues to work with these young entrepreneurs helping to bring their products to market and eventual to monetize them.  It is my hope that our private sector would sooner modernize their operations utilising these talents available locally.

Over the past year, we have worked in close collaboration with Ministries and Government agencies to make public services available online, specifically with:

  • The Ministry of Education to process the exam results for over 23,000 students in this year’s National Grade Six and Grade Nine Assessments
  • The Ministry of Social Protection to streamline the pension payment platform
  • The Ministry of Citizenship to refine the passport application process
  • The Ministry of Health to support the National Health Information System
  • The Ministry of Finance via connectivity to the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMAS)

In order to sustain these activities in 2018, 700 Million dollars have been allocated for the required Internet bandwidth and satellite services, and over 300 Million for maintaining and securing (physically and online) the eGovernment network.

Projections for 2018

Mr. Speaker, the projections for 2018 are as follows:

The National Broadband Project:  This is a proposed 3-year project estimated to cost 37.6 Million US Dollars, to begin in the latter half of 2018.  This project will upgrade the eGovernment Network to enable equitable delivery of services to citizens in the areas of education, health, security, government administration, business, citizenship and immigration.

We have submitted the application for the loan from the China EXIM Bank and await approval

NATIONAL ICT STRATEGY: This 10-year strategy is based on two fundamental pillars:- 1) The growth of ICT as an independent sector, and 2) Its application as a cross cutting component in all other sectors. These sectors include governance, science, innovation and the creative industries.

The strategy is well underway and the next stage is to begin the multi-stakeholder consultations that will include members from all the sectors.  There are specific objectives, e.g. the staggered reduction of unemployment, the creation of jobs through such initiatives as our proposed national digitization and documentation of government records. Already young Guyanese displaying an interest and aptitude at our ICT hubs are being identified for this employment programme.

New LEGISLATION for the Information Age: Intellectual Property Protection: Guyana would be unable to position itself as a credible offshore provider of ICT and other knowledge-based services unless our investors and potential clients are certain that their intellectual assets would be protected.  MOPT and the Ministries of Business and Education will start the review of the current legislation shortly.

The E-Commerce/e-transaction legislation will support the ability of entrepreneurs to transact business in the internet space with legal protections and validations.   A robust Cyber Security policy will support this legislation.

Liberalisation and Establishing the sector Regulator

The Ministry of Public Telecommunications has been working on a number of preparatory activities for commencement of the new regulatory regime following the passage of the Telecommunications Act 2016.  The two main tracks are: 1) Negotiations for liberalization of the sector, and 2) Preparing the regulations which will be managed by the Telecommunications Agency.

Preparations for this new agency are moving apace, but as I said before, its ‘birth’ will come about when the negotiations come to a close with Atlantic Tele Network Incorporated, the parent of GTT.  To date we have completed the Agency’s Structure, Job Descriptions, Financial Regulations, Staff Manual administrative procedures for commencement in the first quarter in 2018.

In addition, the Ministry has also commissioned and received important technical policy outputs relating to Spectrum Management.  These include a Spectrum Management Policy, pricing and spectrum allocation.

With respect to licenses, Section 93(4)(b) of the Telecommunications Act requires that we terminate and re-issue these to currently authorized operators.  The Ministry has therefore invited the two currently licensed telecommunications operators to commence discussions with a view to finalizing the licenses that will be required under the new regulations.  Discussions have begun with one of those operators, and we anticipate that the other shall respond in due course.  Early in 2018, we intend to engage prospective licensees and others who are/were operating without a license.

HUMAN CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT – The thrust is to develop a knowledge-driven, e-ready population with a focus on the people in rural and hinterland areas who are usually left out. MOPT will collaborate with the Ministries of Education and Business as well as the private sector to develop comprehensive, agile training programmes to prepare citizens to compete for employment domestically, in the region, and to prepare them to operate their own businesses. For Guyana to develop and maintain a competitive edge, the curricula at all of our educational facilities from the primary level must be aggressively strengthened with a technological-focus.

OUTREACH FOR ICT SKILL DEVELOPMENT:  The MOPT has already begun our citizen outreach and awareness activities as part of our overall goal to develop the ICT Sector. This involves building an internal media platform to disseminate information and encourage feedback and collaboration. Our Industry and Innovation Unit has responsibility for management of the ministry’s social media presence.

Our outreach and education services also include capacity building seminars, Hackathons and Code Sprints. The primary purpose is to encourage citizens to get involved in nation building with innovative ideas.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND INNOVATION:  We have been interacting with a lot of young people with great ideas who could not convert them into income generating initiatives. MOPT’s mission is to enable and foster this process which we believe will have a positive impact on our significant youth unemployment rate.

Mr. Speaker, consultation is the key to tapping our untapped ICT potential in this nation, and we plan to engage in a series of consultative exercises to educate the general public on our plans to develop the ICT sector.  The web portal I referred to will facilitate discussions with stakeholders.

ICT Training – The MOPT will collaborate with the private sector to develop short term community-based training programmes to equip citizens with particular skills in office productivity, and entry skills on programming, coding, and software development.

Animation & Game Design – In 2018, the Ministry will seek out an animation expert to create an Animation & Game Design curriculum to train local IT instructors in this growing field. Well-trained animators should be able to enlarge the animation production group that already exists, and ultimately enable Guyana to offer candidates for CXC’s Animation & Game Design subject at the CAPE level.

Hackathons –These are extreme, demanding programming competitions that identify talented persons who could be encouraged to establish their own start up businesses.  The MOPT in collaboration with the ICT stakeholder community will host a series of Hackathons in 2018, as well as a Code Sprint that has similar objectives – to test their knowledge and have them find solutions to social problems using technology.

Projected Outcomes

Mr. Speaker, the projected outcomes for our Industry Innovation interventions in 2018 can be summed up as follows:

  • A draft national ICT plan to provide the policy and technical direction for the Government of Guyana.
  • The completion of legislation for Electronic Transactions and Data Protection to be submitted to Parliament.
  • Completion of the refined Intellectual Property legislation
  • People in remote communities exposed to the benefits of ICT via free, easy access to the Internet and our national outreach programmes
  • Citizens prepared for employment as a result of compact, short term training courses. At least one Coding Academy to be created with MOPT support
  • Study is to be completed which suggests the Terms & Conditions and other major components for an ICT Venture Capital Fund
  • Completed curriculum for Animation Training & Game Design training
  • A preliminary design and completed feasibility study for an ICT Park.

Transforming the Post to provide Services

Mr. Speaker, one of our more interesting challenges is the Guyana Post Office Corporation, i.e. transforming our Postal Services into a solid entity equipped for the 21st Century.  This means refurbishing the physical environs and infusing the postal systems and services with modern technologies.

I’d like to emphasise the fact that even with such huge advancements in technology, not even the most developed countries have abandoned their postal services.  What they have done, and what we are now doing, is transforming the postal systems to provide other services in this technological age.

I’ve found almost every GPO building in a decrepit state, but we are turning this around to provide proper conditions and efficient services for our citizens.

Our objective is to create multi-functional post offices that will deliver postal and public services, enabled with internet connections and computers.

The plan is to convert as many of the nation’s 64 post offices into Community ICT hubs, bringing facilities for eLearning, eCommerce and public services to people, especially inland residents who were previously cut off from the city and from the rest of the world.

The process has begun with the Kitty Post Office.  The rehabilitation of that building began in 2012 but it was stalled for some reason. This government took it up again in 2015 and 2 months ago in October we commissioned a brand new Post Office equipped with computers and Wifi for free use by residents in that community.

Mr. Speaker, our plans for full modernization of the entire postal service include:-

  • Demolition of all derelict Post Office buildings and rebuilding from the foundation up
  • Reconstruction of many Post Office buildings, giving them energy-efficient layouts
  • Internally, document handling, bill payment consolidation, money order transactions and our own billing system will be computerized
  • Post Offices slated for major rehabilitation in 2018 are Buxton, Charlestown and Soesdyke in Region 4; Sisters Village in Region 6; and Danielstown in Region 2. The new buildings will have electronic security, Wi-Fi, Air Conditioning, and friendly accommodations for the elderly and infirm.  

CONVERSION FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL BROADCASTING

Mr. Speaker the National Frequency Management Unit, soon to be subsumed by the Telecommunications Agency – has been busy with this conversion/transition to Digital Terrestrial TV Broadcasting.  At the end of July 2017, we held key consultations with television broadcasters.  The NFMU was the ‘driver’ of this process.  The consultations were to discuss the “Road-map” to transition that will guide the conversion process.  It is part of the overall strategy to allow Guyana to catch up and keep up with fast advancing technologies being implemented by the countries we are connected with through trade, and otherwise.

Now I would like to address some of the questions asked by my colleagues.

  1. What about the promise of lightening speed internet? The $2B cable that PPP govt landed in 2014 is so badly damaged, mishandled, that not a single portion of it could be salvaged.  It could have been used to connect the hinterland, city, and towns.  Now we have to spend millions to pay private service providers for satellite and other types of equipment to connect them.
  1. To MP. Gillian Burton … The $30,000 per laptop you referred to has nothing to do with our One Laptop per Teacher (2015) programme. It is a program that the CPCE had in operation for many years, and which was started under YOUR administration.  That programme required student teachers get a subsidized laptop and contribute to a revolving fund that was setup under a World Bank programme.

In conclusion, I must reiterate that my Ministry and the Government are well aware of the critical role that ICT plays, and must continue playing in the economic advancement of this country.  I do believe that with the support of my colleagues, and even my friends across the aisle, we will fulfill Guyana’s positive economic destiny that has been held in abeyance for so long.

Hon. Catherine A. Hughes

Minister, Ministry of Public Telecommunications 

 

 ADDENDUM TO REPORT ON INTERNET CONNECTIONS IN THE HINTERLAND

Mr. Speaker, in my presentation to this honourable house on Tuesday 5 December, while talking about the numerous interventions that this Government has made in inland and Hinterland areas, I had said that villages like Masekanari had never had internet connectivity before our intervention in 2015.  I did say that “this is not some recycled failed PPP project”.

I have to correct myself and say that our intervention in Masekenari did indeed come following a badly failed PPP project.

Masekenari is located in the Deep, Deep South of the Rupununi near to Gunns Strip on the very edge of Guyana’s southern border with Brazil.  Because of the importance of that indigenous community, the eGovernment Unit visited in 2015 to ascertain and to satisfy the community’s IT needs.

What the engineers and team found was about 300 Wai Wais living on the country’s border in a village that was totally cut off communication-wise.  They have to walk for a week to reach the next village.

The tragedy is that they USED TO HAVE a Satellite dish a few years ago under an arrangement with the ‘Broadband’ company.  This “arrangement” had a ‘SPONSOR’ agreeing to pay Broadband for the internet service to Masekenari for up to one year.  When that year ended long before 2014, nothing else happened.  The village was cut off again; the satellite dish, the batteries and power supply equipment just rotted away in the field where it was located.

Almost as soon as our administration began in 2015, we went into the village, and connected Masekenari to the worldwide web on a strictly free government arrangement, and to ensure that they STAY connected!

  • We installed a robust C-Band VSAT system with Wifi capability IN THE VILLAGE HOUSE, not in some field on a rickety wooden structure where the old dish was found.
  • The new system has UNLIMITED capacity and NO DATA CAP on usage.
  • The system has the ability to withstand severe weather conditions, and it allows the residents to communicate with anyone at any time, whether in drought or flood. 
  • It provides the 300 Wai Wai residents with a fast path to modern healthcare, education and security. 

Of course, every precaution is being taken to avoid disrupting their customs and traditions.

So I have to emphasise that even before the old equipment had been left to corrode, the villagers’ ability to communicate was down to NOUGHT.  What we have installed there gives them, and us, several assurances:-

1.    That the Toshao could be reached at any time, and he really does not waste this opportunity to communicate with all relevant Ministries

2.    NDMA has a schedule for maintenance of all equipment, for replenishing and replacing any component when the need arises.  That includes the satellite dish, batteries, and the solar power supply

3.    The plan for 2018 also includes upgrading the solar power supply to give the village ‘redundant capacity’

The state in which we found the equipment at Masekenari could only be described as derelict.  We have replaced all of it and we have been keeping our commitment to the Toshao and villagers.

 

Catherine Hughes

Minister of Public Telecommunications

December 6, 2017