By Joy-Ann Gill
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Digital disruption has always been a key feature of the government’s move to modernise the Barbadian economy and respond to the global market place.
This was highlighted by the minister in the ministry of economic affairs and investment, Marsha Caddle, as she addressed the first virtual format of the Royal Fidelity Economic Outlook Conference on the theme: Global Digital Disruption – Threats/Opportunities.
Engaging colleagues across the region, minister Caddle made it known that in 2018, Barbados embarked on the design and establishment of a US$40 million project to digitalise and modernise the environment in which government and people interact.
Noting that this placed emphasis on the public and private sectors, including startups and sole proprietorships; the third sector, academia and individuals, she added that work began in 2019 with the project focused on everything from digitising records so Barbados could make full use of big data.
“Our Barbados Statistical Service is transitioning to a statistics and data analytics authority to migrating key government services online. The issuance of a police certificate of character has moved from weeks to 24 hours, through an online application process. Immigration services; the renewal of driving licences; the payment of land tax and the issuance of liquor licences, which are so key in a hospitality-based economy, these have all been digitalised and other key services are coming on board.
“That work also includes a public investment dashboard, so that first, government and then the public can track delivery of major projects that are critical for development. And, it also includes training for key public officers in the application of disruptive technologies,” the minister revealed.
“Our Barbados Statistical Service is transitioning to a statistics and data analytics authority to migrating key government services online. The issuance of a police certificate of character has moved from weeks to 24 hours, through an online application process. Immigration services; the renewal of driving licences; the payment of land tax and the issuance of liquor licences, which are so key in a hospitality-based economy, these have all been digitalised and other key services are coming on board.” ~ minister Caddle
Noting, however, that 2020 showed that Barbados was not doing things fast enough for a global shutdown, forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, minister Caddle said this caused the country to immediately create a delivery economy, where goods and services had to reach persons where they were, and payments had to be made and received in remote locations.
Pointing out that this coincided with the establishment of a national payment system, for which legislation was passed last year, she added that success of this would be seen in the form of a reduction in the cost of payments for Barbadians, by loosening the hold banks had on the payment system.
“This Act allows new players to introduce new technologies that would lower costs and make all kinds of payments, including those for licences, but also those among individuals and companies easier and faster,” the minister said.
Emphasising that the digital disruption movement must, by definition, be global, she told counterparts in the region: “We are doing nothing for the citizens and residents of Barbados, The Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, if our digital agenda does not allow their creative and productive capacity to meet a global market.”
Another digital disruption opportunity she spoke to was tourism, stating that the government had developed the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) plan to respond to a sector that employs directly and indirectly 40 percent of the labour force and contributes almost as much to GDP, Caddle told the conference participants that economic activity in that sector fell overnight to zero.
Adding that Barbados saw an over 18 percent decline in its economy in 2020, driven largely by a standstill in international travel and tourism, she stressed: “If we had not introduced the Welcome Stamp Programme and this BEST initiative, it would have been worst. In fact, after Barbados finalised our domestic and external debt restructuring, debt including arrears went from 176 percent to 117 percent of GDP.”
The region also heard that companies subscribing to the BEST programme were required to agree to a few things, including training for workers and it was noted that this past May Day, Barbados launched a partnership with COURSERA that would make thousands of courses available to Barbadians, free of cost, and in areas poised to enhance their productivity and competitiveness.
Barbados’ new digital ID was also flagged by the minister, who deemed it as “perhaps one of the most transformational of all”. Explaining that it re-registers the population with a single digital identity, Caddle stressed it would remove much of the time and nuisance in presenting it several times, to many government and business environments in order to get things done.