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Benn lambastes regional tardiness

Hallam Hope

Benn lambastes regional tardiness

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MINISTER?OF?COMMERCE?HAYNESLEY?BENN has expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progress made at regional meetings and is advocating change.
He told a forum of technology specialists that while Caribbean heads of government want a strategy on Information and Communication Technology (ICT), he believed the strategy needed a head. 
Benn was unusually critical in his comments at a recent meeting which heard details on a draft ICT strategy coordinated by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat. He spoke of meetings of the Council For Trade and Economic Development (COTED), a CARICOM ministerial meeting at which there was considerable “talk”. 
But, he lamented, “the only thing that comes out of these meetings are the people who go in”. The minister said this was unacceptable in the private sector where progress was expected to be reported at subsequent meetings.     
His comments came at a meeting of ICT specialists at which Dr Camilla Rhone, a consultant with CARICOM, presented a draft strategy document on approaches to enhance ICT in the region. Attending that meeting, which was coordinated by the National Council for Science and Technology (NCST), a division of the Ministry of Commerce, was Jennifer Britton, who has special responsibility for ICT matters at the CARICOM Secretariat.Benn acknowledged that ICT development required budgeting and capacity-building.     
He also suggested that a champion needed to be identified for the regional ICT strategy and called for greater use of technology, including teleconferencing for meetings.
In her presentation of the draft strategy, Dr Rhone cited data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) which showed that the average growth in regional broadband access, when compared with developed countries, showed an increasing divide referred to in the industry as a digital divide. She also noted that unlike Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, Barbados did not have a central agency or institution responsible for ICT development.
An observation was made by the audience that at both the regional and Barbados levels there were multiple ministries and Government departments dealing with ICT implementation. It was argued that this “fragmentation” led to financial and other wastage and contributed to slow ICT development and national progress.
The meeting at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Conference Centre was one of several regional stops organised by the CARICOM Secretariat to share information and get feedback on the draft ICT strategy.