LEFT OF CENTRE: Slaying the silo dragon
The idiom “cannot see the forest for the trees”, a favourite reference of the late academic luminary Professor Rex Nettleford, is relevant in any discussion on how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can propel Barbados’ social and economic development.
The simple point is that rather than focus on the overview or important areas, some of us become embroiled in the details and minor or, I would prefer, supporting matters.
This is particularly true of ICT where there is a historic tendency to consider the line items, the individual programmes, rather than the fundamental reasons why ICT is not a major determinant of social upward mobility, poverty reduction and a driver of economic progress.
The fact of the matter is that in both the Caribbean Community and national contexts, ICT can only make a huge difference if it is recognised that fragmentation in ICT policy is the principal reason for the country’s state of backwardness in individual technology adaptation.
Unlike Korea, the global leader in broadband access for its citizens, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and other countries, Barbados remains locked in a silo approach to ICT development.
Simply put, this means that rather than having a single agency or institution responsible for ICT progress, we maintain an age-old and inefficient system of several agencies and Government departments having varying degrees of responsibility for ICT implementation of programmes and projects.
So the first order of business is to recognise that the silo and fragmented approach to ICT development is a dragon that needs to be slain and that slaying this dragon is indeed the first order of business.
Recognition that the silo dragon is at the root of ICT progress requires a major buy-in at the political level because Government is the principal player when it comes to driving any policy.
Ordinary citizens need affordable and best-of-breed communications, not unreliable Internet access and service coupled with low bandwidth.
They need to see how the Internet should be used in productive ways that put money in their pockets rather than as toys; that a cellular phone or an iPad or BlackBerry is a tool to increase our earnings; that the netbook, laptop or desktop is no different from a backyard garden which can enhance our ability to learn, produce, earn and teach.
Minister of Commerce Haynesley Benn is correct that we Barbadians spend too much time talking about what needs to be done in ICT policy and participating in fruitless talk shops that result in future talk shops (my words) and very little action.
Outdated legislation and policy, underfunded ICT budgets, retarded access to broadband taken in a global context, Government departments with inadequate human resources, lots of fluff rather than persistent, informed advocacy and a lack of political buy-in are important details that have been trumpeted for decades as being “necessary to do”.
But as it is of little contextual value to continue a debate on these line items and why they are not being fixed, conversely it is necessary to see the forest despite the trees, understand the complexity of ICT public sector reform and start to work with urgency to slay the silo dragon.