T&T recently announced an ambitious national Information and communications technology (ICT) plan, dubbed smartTT. According to the plan, which covers the period 2012 to 2016, smartTT is intended to enable the twin-island Caribbean nation to “evolve and embrace new ways of learning, living, doing business, staying connected and delivering public services.” The preceding national ICT plan branded fastforward was introduced in 2003 and covered a five-year planning period. fastforward was not perfect, but it did bring tangible advance to the national ICT agenda. Since 2008, however, the Government has been without a coherent strategy or defined approach for national ICT. The current smartTT National ICT Plan seeks to address this by speaking to the key areas needed to facilitate development. It touches on legislation, development of specific ICT industry sub sectors, adoption of standards, and human resource development.
It also focuses on public sector ICT development as well as private sector initiatives. The themes for plan are correctly based on five important dimensions: capacity, community, business, infrastructure and government. The vision is: to create a dynamic knowledge-based society, driven by the innovative use of ICTs to enhance the social, economic and cultural development of the people of T&T. On paper, the plan is a good beginning. The document is necessarily bold in framing a vision for the country’s technology-enabled development. It correctly notes that fulfillment of the plan’s targets will require new levels of innovation, collaboration and creativity. It promises hopefully that government agencies will work collaboratively to bring the objectives to pass. However, the smartTT plan is disappointedly thin on implementation strategies, execution details and responsibility centres. The plan is also absolutely silent on how the disjointed structures of government will be coordinated to bring technology to the people. Most troubling, the 2012-2012 national ICT plan is devoid of the “how” of governance and leadership. At best, these are major but correctable oversights. Worse, it may be an indicator of a fundamentally flawed process, already fated for failure. Still, there is no room for disillusionment or cynicism. Technology is simply too important to national development.
Committed leadership is key
The paradox of technology-driven national development is that citizens aren’t ultimately interested in portals, broadband, smartphones, caravans or technology per se. Their real concern is improvement in the quality of life. Technology is just the enabler. This holds true whether people live in small developing states or large industrialised societies. Therefore, for a national ICT strategy to be relevant to citizens in any country, it has to describe, in clear terms, what the actual plan is for providing convenient, ubiquitous access to reliable government services. It has to detail the actual implementation mechanisms for facilitating hassle-free business creation and development. It has to chart a credible course to improving public administration, deepening the human resource pool and increasing transparency and accountability in governance.
Most importantly, a national plan has to give citizens and national stakeholders the real assurance of focused, committed and ethical leadership. A decade ago the term “leadership” was rarely used to describe the political and managerial imperatives of government. Now perhaps the most important and commonly shared understanding internationally is that high quality leadership—political and executive—is absolutely critical to the continued improvement of the public sector, its credibility and reputation with the public it serves. Leaders are entrusted with safeguarding against deviation from the values and tenants of good governance. National interest must always come before self-interest. It is the responsibility of leaders to guarantee that programs are effectively supported, resourced and implemented.
More Work Needed
A national ICT plan must present a country with a clear, actionable roadmap for translating vision into implementable reality. It is not a place for empty promises or vague, buzz-word filled references. Businesses require this to make informed planning and investment decisions. Policy makers need this to craft relevant legislation and to facilitate a suitable, enabling environment. Citizens need a clear, coherent plan so that they can play their unique part in translating vision into national reality. A national ICT plan is not a manifesto, where promises can be made without details. There must be stated consequences to departing from the declared development agenda. I am hopeful that an updated edition of T&T’s smartTT documentation is already in the works to address the glaring deficiencies in the current version. Beyond hope, we can all, as national stakeholders, contribute to the refinement of process so that the broadest possible views and considerations can be taken into account. After all, the underlying philosophy for the development of the smartTT plan draws from our national motto: “Together We Aspire, Together We Achieve.”
Bevil Wooding is the Founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an education-focused not-for-profit delivering values-based technology training programs including digital publishing and eBook creation workshops. He is also Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding and Facebook: facebook.com/bevilwooding