CARICOM ministers approve integrated work plan for single ICT space
Caribbean Community (CARICOM) ministers with responsibility for information and communication technologies (ICT) on Friday approved the integrated work plan for the Community’s single ICT space.
The approval came during discussions at the 68th special meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on ICT. The virtual meeting was anchored at the CARICOM Secretariat in Georgetown, Guyana.
The single ICT space is conceptualised as the digital layer of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), the region’s flagship programme. It encompasses the management of regional information, human resources, legislation and infrastructure in the sector to elicit maximum benefit for the region’s populace.
The single ICT space and the region’s digital agenda 2025 are premised on the regional digital development strategy (RDDS), which was approved in 2013, and will also have inputs from key regional commissions and the post-2015 agenda.
CARICOM heads of government approved the road map for the single ICT space in February 2017, and the integrated work plan was developed and fine-tuned following several meetings of senior officials of ICT in the region. The integrated approach allows for the coordination of activities which are geared towards the best solutions to meet the needs of the people, and to achieve economies of scale across the region.
CARICOM assistant secretary-general, trade and economic integration, Joseph Cox, said that in the course of developing the work plan, several matters were brought to light, including the fact of the different stages of ICT development across CARICOM member states.
“The single ICT space work plan provides a guide for issues that the region can work on together — with those that have done some things before helping the ones now embarking on those projects,” he said.
Cox also reminded the meeting that last week the world observed World Telecommunication and Information Society Day with the theme of ‘Big data for big impact’. “Big data is just one of the issues on the front burner of the digital sector. Are we dealing with the issues of standards, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence at the national and regional levels?:
He cautioned, “Our citizens are very aware of what is happening around them and possible resulted impact. We as servants of the citizens of this region and the practitioners and decision-makers in the sector have to give them the assurance that we are aware too and are earnestly working to ensure that we do not retard their progress as digital citizens.”
Cohesiveness in national and regional ICT endeavours, and the indicative budget for the single ICT space elicited robust discussion at the meeting on Friday. Ministers commended and gave their imprimatur to the work plan which will now be placed before the CARICOM heads of government in July in St George’s, Grenada.
Before the ministers got down to business Friday morning, chairman, minister of trade, industry and tourism, Ferdinand Welzijn thanked the senior officials from CARICOM member states and regional organisations who worked on the draft integrated work plan.
“I want to thank them for their dedicated efforts on this important regional initiative,” he said.
The minister added that given the importance of the single ICT space to both national and regional development, “heads of government expect ICT ministers to play a pivotal role in the guidance and development of key regional documents and processes. It therefore means that you have to endeavour to prioritise areas which are not only on the national agenda, but are regional as well. Ultimately, one affects the other, especially since we are working towards a harmonised ICT space.”
While he pointed to challenges which the Community may encounter, he issued a reminder that when used strategically, ICT was a solution provider. He said that ICT was becoming a main pivot in the four pillars of the Community – trade and economic development, human and social development, foreign policy coordination and security.
“Let us therefore focus on doing our part so that the big picture can be understood and appreciated by the citizens of the region whom we serve. The work on the single ICT space forces us to collaborate like never before as ministers, policy-makers, officials and civil society, if we are going to succeed and advance as a region”, he told his fellow ministers.
The half-day meeting also paid attention to the Community’s digital agenda, which encompasses the role ICT plays in the development of society such as in relation to the elderly, disabled and marginalised; in transportation, agriculture and energy; and in the green economy approach now being undertaken by member states.
The ministers also acknowledged the cyber security action plan which was recently approved by the Council for National Security and Law Enforcement (CONSLE) and agreed to forge ahead with a coordinated approach to keeping national assets secured. They agreed to meet before July to discuss digital broadcasting and switch-over issues.