POLICY STATEMENT DELIVERED BY THE HON. JAMAHL STRACHAN PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY IN THE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS ON BEHALF OF THE HON. MICHAEL HALKITIS MINISTER OF ECONOMIC AFFAIRS WITH RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS SECTOR.
Thank you Madam Session Chair,
It is a great honour for me to share with you this afternoon an indication of the commitment of the Government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to digital inclusion and transformation across the length and breadth of our islands. As you know, The Commonwealth of The Bahamas is an archipelago of some 700 islands and Cays with about 14 major populated islands.
However, I would be remised if I did not express gratitude on behalf of The Government of The Bahamas and those members of the Bahamian Delegation, to the government and people of the Republic of Rwanda for an extremely warm welcome and reception. I would also wish to extend Congratulations to the Development Bureau of the ITU for this visionary initiative in particular, and the overall execution of the WDTC in general
As we reflect on the conferences’ theme, appropriately titled “Connecting the unconnected to achieve sustainable development”, I wish to share the initiatives of the government of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas to provide high quality affordable communication services throughout The Bahamas, and in particular those areas of the country, which remain, underserved. As an archipelago of 700 islands and cays, the challenge remains, how to provide affordable high quality communication services throughout the country; particularly, in the less developed, least populated islands. The government has sought to resolve this matter by creating an “Electronic Communications Sector Policy”, it has set as its mandate, the provision of affordable high speed connectivity to all citizens in the archipelago.
Through our government’s “E-Bahamas Revolution” initiative, the “Digital 700” will be created to ensure that residents, business community and vulnerable communities can afford and access broadband and connect to government services seamlessly.
With expected outcomes and deliverables being:
- Further Streamlining of Government procedures, making them available online to reduce the cost of government bureaucracy; and
- Increased use of ICTs in the Public Sector and by the Government;
A recently developed and implemented online solution using a single interoperability platform makes it easier for Bahamian residents, and people doing business with the Bahamas, to transact business and interact with government. Today, the online platform has more than 70K users, with over 46 services launched for 12 agencies, collecting well over $1.7mil in revenues annually. Our goal over the next 3 years is to have 200 services on-boarded.
The government’s commitment to connectivity for all, is fueled by the clarion call for digitization and innovation by its people. The call has been heard resulting in the following:
- The Cabinet has commissioned a National Electronic Identification Special Committee focused on the oversight for implementing and launching of an electronic digital identification for The Bahamas, the plans for which are well underway.
- The Ministry of Public Service has begun the process of digitizing INTERNAL RECORDS to be used in conjunction with a state-of-the-art Human Resource Management System.
- The MINISTRY OF HEALTH has concluded the selection of a vendor solution which will automate and streamline The Electronic Health Record (EHR) system for hospitals and clinics.
- The REGISTRAR GENERAL DEPARTMENT is also commencing the digitization of its records as a precursor to the establishment of a national centralize electronic civil registry.
The government recognizes that the provision and digitization of the services is just one half of the equation. Our citizens must first have access.
It is important to note that in our discussion of access, a common theme is that of affordability. Affordability is axiomatic in the discussion of access.
In order to ensure greater access to affordable communications services, the government has just committed and pledged the establishment of a Universal Service Fund to subsidize the provision of communication services in The Bahamas, particularly in underserved rural areas.
In addition to subsidizing the provision of high speed connectivity service the government has also pledged to establish an Infrastructure Fund, to aid development through connectivity in the less developed areas within the country. In conjunction with the Infrastructure Fund, the Government in its recent budget, removed all customs duties from telecommunication towers, Wi-Fi Devices and several other related communication parts and products.
The Bahamas to date is just one (1) of nine (9) countries to have launched a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). This digital Bahamian currency further demonstrates the government’s commitment to inclusivity for all citizens. Communities that are not serviced by the traditional commercial banks are now able to conduct financial transactions. It is an imperative that individuals throughout The Bahamas have access to affordable, high quality communications services to allow for greater participation in the economic life of the country.
The government subsidies that are provided through the Universal Service Fund and the Infrastructure Fund should also be viewed as drivers of investment in underserved communities.
In summary, the government of The Bahamas is committed to connecting the unconnected; improving access to communications services, in particular broadband access. Our Government recognizes that a robust, accessible and inclusive ICT ecosystem can be a driver of economic growth and by extension sustainable development.
We further pledge our committmentto achieving the objectives of the International Telecommunication Union. This commitment is why The Bahamas, an executive member of CITEL, an English speaking small island nation endorsed by Caricom, is seeking re-election to the ITU Council in September.
I thank you for listening, and look forward to engaging with as many of you as together we work to connect the unconnected around the globe.