Date: 5th December 2023
The Honourable Philip Davis, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Sir Ian Winder, Chief Justice of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas
Other Senior Officials of the Caribbean Judiciary
The Honourable Andre Laveau, Consul General of Trinidad and Tobago to New York
Other Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corp.
Mr. Bevil Wooding, Director, Caribbean Affairs, American Registry for Internet Numbers ARIN and Executive Director, Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions
Mr. Einar Bohlin, Vice President, Government Affairs, ARIN
Ms. Petipha Lewis, Executive Director, CARICHAM
Permanent Secretaries, Senior Government Officials and Heads of International and Regional Organisations
Mr. Nigel Edwards, Executive Director of the Unit Trust Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago
Partners and Sponsors
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am honored to welcome you to this Connected Caribbean Summit 2023 on behalf of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). Our role here as CTU is to bring a perspective on the technology and policy pillars in this discussion over the two days of this meeting. The flags you see here represent the member states of the CTU, and since its establishment in 1989, the CTU has been leading the charge with respect to the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) landscape in the Caribbean.
Therefore, permit me to begin by making reference to a CTU-hosted experience in 2019, and I say experience versus a conference entitled “Caribbean Futurescape” (CFS). At the time Prime Minister Dr. The Hon. Keith Mitchell of Grenada was there in his role as lead on Science and Technology in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet.
Caribbean Futurescape is a futuristic digital experience that showcases how technology can promote economic, social, and cultural integration. It is a borderless space that uses ICT to create a real-time technology immersion experience that demonstrates speed, efficiency, and transparency. In short it demonstrated what an ICT-enabled Caribbean might look like. The Caribbean Agency for Justice Solutions was one of the key partners, demonstrating solutions that enabled the more effective delivery of justice in our judicial systems, leveraging regional talent to develop and support these cutting-edge solutions.
As I mentioned, some of the objectives were to enable citizens to experience the transformative potential of ICT in a futuristic Caribbean Single ICT Space and prove that a digital Caribbean is indeed within our reach; to demonstrate the possibilities for free movement of people, goods, services and capital, and rights of establishment in a Single Market and Economy; and to promote greater understanding of the benefits of collaboration by governments in establishing the CARICOM Single ICT Space.
This was almost a year before the global Covid-19 pandemic. Two years before I would have the priviledge of leading this great institution. What has happened since the landmark experience that was CFS?
I recall that the Executive Director of CAJS, Mr. Bevil Wooding, in laying out the context for this Summit, last night indicated that it was a space for real, authentic and sincere dialogue. Are we ready for this real, authentic and sincere dialogue? Because real, authentic and sincere can sometimes equate to uncomfortable. Are you ready?
The first thing is that I am getting a little weary of meetings and conferences. I understand their value but Im a bit weary of them.
I am also weary of producing policy papers, handbooks, and strategies that do not get implemented. I understand the value of them, but its just Im a bit weary.
I mentioned the experience of Caribbean Futurescape that preceded the Pandemic, for a reason. It was like the calm before the storm. During the pandemic, governments who for more than a decade had national ICT strategies that spoke to online public services, sitting on shelves unimplemented, could not even renew a drivers licence, let alone effectively administer justice, the most vulnerable citizens could not cash their benefit cheques. With respect to education, our youngest citizens could not access online learning platforms, many due to the lack of economic means to do so. People shopped for groceries based on the letters of their surnames on different days to encourage social distancing. Tourism, the mainstay for many of our economies ground to a halt with airport closures and flight cancellations.
Besides the devastation that the Pandemic brought, there are other existential threats to the Caribbean, perhaps one of the biggest is being discussed in Dubai as we speak at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This particular threat keeps us up at night. We can see it coming and it implores us to build resilient infrastructure, not just ICT infrastructure, but infrastructure that can withstand the effects of devastating climate events.
Time does not permit me to get into the increasing risks of cybersecurity threats or the fast-moving developments in artificial intelligence and next generation technologies that are supporting industry 4.0, Smart Cities and the like.
Where are we as a region in all of this? The Digitally Enabled Caribbean: What’s Happening; Who’s Doing What, Where, Why. Where is the transformation that we seek?
I should mention that ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) has been doing some excellent research on digital inclusion in the Caribbean. I encourage you to read some of this research as it identifies some of the systematic challenges we have in the region. It points to a serious lack of implementation, and a lack of evidence-based policy interventions.
A part of the challenge is that we are not doing enough research, we are not measuring progress and leveraging the data to inform these much needed policy interventions. Too much of what we say is anecdotal evidence or simply given from the narrow perspective that we have from where we sit.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have to change this narrative and we have to change it fast. As the saying goes, if we are not a part of the solution then we are a part of the problem. Are we prepared to accept that? Or do we continue to say its those politicians over there? And we do the same thing, in the same way, point the same fingers, and expect a different result?
Now, I would not be so naïve as to think that we have all of the solutions here in this room. But I am asking for the real change agents to please stand up?! Now is the time!
I sincerely implore us to identify, for each of the pillars represented here today, at least two commitments that we in our own respective roles, can collectively advance for the Caribbean. Let us agree that that we will push for implementation of solutions in these areas that improve the lives of our citizens where the impact will be felt the most, let us agree that while we will work with international partners, we have to support our local and indigenous talent. Let us agree that not everything requires a technological solution but everything requires a shift in our collective mindset going forward.
Together, as policymakers, thought leaders, and visionaries, let us leverage the boundless potential of information technology to propel our nations towards a future marked by progress, equity, and resilience. Our deliberations here today hold the power to mold the future of a digitally-enabled Caribbean. Let us use that power to maximum effect. I have no doubt that this will be a wonderful meeting, but we owe it to our stakeholders, the citizens of the Caribbean to follow up with tangible outcomes.
I wish us fruitful discussions with meaningful insights during this conference but after this, let us get to work! Let us genuinely get to work.
Let me thank the CAJS, CARICHAM, Caribnog, ARIN and other partners for their support. Lets figure it out together!
Ladies and gentlemen I thank you for your time and your patience.