Guyana continues to lag behind other Caribbean countries in the Information and Communication Technology Sector (ICT) despite the manifest potential of the sector to contribute to the country’s development, Senior Vice President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Lance Hinds told a forum at the Pegasus Hotel last week.
Hinds’s keynote address to the forum posited that “the high cost of supporting infrastructure, the absence of enabling legislation and limited skill sets” have been significant contributors to the “slow” development of the ICT sector in Guyana. …2013 still finds us way behind our Caribbean colleagues in terms of scope, function and overall contribution to national development.”
Limitations of capacity and high cost apart, Hinds told participants at the ICT forum organized by the chamber, that Guyana would be unable to position itself as a credible offshore provider of ICT-related services, “unless our prospective clients are comfortable that their intellectual assets are protected
“Nowadays when I think about the local ICT sector I think about the one word that was used about this country since independence. That word is potential. Everyone paid lip service to it,” he said. He noted that just as Guyana was touted as having the potential to be the breadbasket of the Caribbean; because English is its first language and because of its similar time zones to potential clients as well as its willing workforce, it was touted as having “the potential to be an information technology hub in the Carib-bean.” Hinds’s company, the BrainStreet Group, is one of the leading innovators in the ICT sector.
Asserting that a productive ICT sector is critical to Guyana’s development, Hinds echoed calls that have repeatedly been made by local private sector entities for the liberalisation of the local telecommunications sector.
In urging a quantum shift in the national disposition to the development of the ICT sector, Hinds told the audience that Guyana will arrive at a point where its development can no longer depend on the respective contributions of the traditional sectors of the economy. Regardless of sentiment, it is inevitable that the traditional productive sectors will not last forever given their current scope and framework. “We see every day the pressure these industries are under. We see this every day with sugar, with rice,” Hinds said, adding that it is the technology-driven, knowledge-management industries that will have to be the cornerstone of this country’s future. “We had better adapt or we are going to be left standing still,” he added.
Describing Guyana’s progress in ICT development over the years as “uneven and to some extent piecemeal,” Hinds said that while some government agencies had implemented and are utilising ICT, others do so only in a limited way. “In the financial sector, for example, banks have 21st century ICT architecture but it is some extent, insular. We still go to Nigel’s [Supermarket] and see two or three point of sale terminals and except in one instance, in 2013 we still go to our own bank to use the ATM. In the same trend, ICT implementation and utilisation in the general private sector has been varied and many cases limited,” the Chamber official added.
Calling for an “action-oriented portfolio of initiatives” designed to create an ICT “roadmap” for Guyana, Hinds told the forum that the initiatives should be located in some key areas including “strategy, policy and legislation, infrastructure development, ICT-enabled public sector modernisa-tion and ICT sector capacity-building.”
He said the overall strategic objective of these initiatives must be “the development of an environment that consistently creates and sustains ICT-related businesses.”
Meanwhile, Hinds lists the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector as being among the “critical things” the country needs to address in pursuit of the development of the ICT sector. “There has to be telecommunications liberalisation. We will be unable to be competitive otherwise. The rates in Guyana for enterprise level/high-end connectivity are among the highest in the Caribbean.
In 2013 the cost of dedicated connectivity, depending on how much you buy, or don’t buy, ranges from $2000 to $3000 per megabit. That is impossible to work with. Only competition can effectively deal with that.”
Meanwhile, Hinds told the forum that the local ICT sector will continue to lose out to other countries in circumstances where the country was unable to provide guarantees on intellectual property. Noting that his company, having gone after business, had suffered from failure to provide intellectual property guarantees, Hinds said “comprehensive intellectual property is fundamental, critical for the development of a successful knowledge economy. Nobody is going to deal with you otherwise. We cannot position ourselves as a credible offshore provider of ICT-related services unless our prospective clients are comfortable that their intellectual assets are protected.”