Effective Governance Key to Caribbean ICT Development
by Gerard Best
PORT OF SPAIN. Trinidad and Tobago jumped three spots to place 60th overall out of 142 countries in the 2012 Global Information Technology Report, published earlier this month by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
Even with its slightly improved ranking, Trinidad and Tobago lagged behind other Latin American and Caribbean countries such as Barbados (35th) and Puerto Rico (36th), although it outperformed several larger territories in the region, including Brazil (65th), Jamaica (74th) and neighbouring Venezuela (107th).
A closer look at the report’s Networked Readiness Index reveals that the reasons for Trinidad and Tobago’s middling performance on the global stage were more closely related to gaps in leadership deficiencies than deficiencies of a technological nature. One telling statistic: although Trinidad and Tobago had top ranking (1st) in the mobile network coverage category, the country still ranked 82nd in terms of affordability of mobile rates, and in terms of Internet and telephony competition–a dismal 117th.
Ironically, the report comes after one Trinidad and Tobago government minister recently boasted of steadily climbing broadband penetration, saying that “there has been an 89 per cent increase in subscriber growth within the period 2006 to 2011.”
“Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have recorded approximately 192,000 fixed Internet subscribers with over 190,000 being subscribers of fixed broadband Internet services, as at the end of 2011,” the minister is reported to have said.
What the report suggests is that simple metrics such as Internet access and mobile network coverage are not sufficient indicators of Government’s capacity to convert technology penetration into more sustainable social and economic impacts.
A deeper analysis of the NRI reveals that Trinidad and Tobago is actually among the worst in the world in several categories that measure social and economic impacts, such as Impact of ICT on Access to Basic Services (109th), ICT Use and Government Efficiency (100th), Laws Relating to ICT (113th), Capacity for Innovation (120th), Impact of ICT on New Services and Products (111th) and Internet and Telephony Competition (117th).
The issue is regional. As the report points out, “Latin America and the Caribbean continue to suffer from an important lag in adopting ICT and technology more broadly. This is reflected in the rankings, as no country manages to reach the top 30.”
The report actually offers three specific reasons for the region’s underdevelopment: an insufficient investment in developing the ICT infrastructure; a weak skill base in the population, the result of poor educational systems that hinder society’s capacity to make an effective use of these technologies; and unfavorable business conditions that do not support the spur of entrepreneurship and innovation. Significantly, none of the reasons proffered are technological; all are symptomatic of the region’s leadership lacuna.
On the positive side, the implication is that enlightened governance and proactive leadership will play a crucial role in the technology-driven developments on the Caribbean region’s future. As the report points out, the most networked countries typically have governments that place ICT at the core of development. Sweden, Singapore, Finland, Denmark and Switzerland rank at one to five, respectively. The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom ranked at eight to 10, respectively. Barbados and Puerto Rico, who topped the regional rankings, “boast environments conducive for entrepreneurship and benefit from relatively robust ICT infrastructures”.
“In both cases, ICT development has been led mainly by the private sector, especially in the case of Puerto Rico, as the governments in both islands have lagged behind in steering ICT progress. Moving forward, Barbados would obtain higher economic impacts from its overall good ICT uptake should the private sector further improve its overall innovation capacity,” the report stated.
Barbados and Puerto Rico may be exemplary but they are certainly exceptional; they stand out as anomalies to the general performance of the countries of this region. The report used the term “global digital divide” to describe the gap between the advanced economies and the rest of the world in terms of access and use of information and communication technologies (ICT), and thus its economic and social impacts. That gap remains “widest with sub-Saharan Africa, and smaller with Developing Asia and with Latin America and the Caribbean”, the report says.
While Latin America and the Caribbean are “very close in most dimensions” to Developing Asia, one significant difference is that the governments of Developing Asia take more of a leadership role than this region’s governments to develop and leverage ICT in society.
Addressing the leadership and governance issues of our region is a prerequisite for improving our competitiveness and shifting our economies toward more knowledge-based activities.
Prepared annually by the World Economic Forum, the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) measures the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICT for enhanced competitiveness. The NRI is highly respected and extensively used by policymakers and elevant stakeholders as a unique tool to identify strengths on which to build and weaknesses that need to be addressed in national strategies for enhanced networked readiness.