Brain drain poses serious risk to gov’t info-tech project
-IDB assessment
Stabroek News
January 21, 2003

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The migration of information and communications technology (ICT) graduates is a serious risk facing the government’s ambitious US$22.5M ICT project expected to get underway this year, according to the IDB.

The project hinges on a US$18M loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Approval of that loan is awaiting clearance from the US courts as GT&T, via its parent firm ATN, has sought to have the loan blocked on the grounds that it would infringe upon its monopoly rights in Guyana. But Justice Thomas Penn Jackson has indicated he intends to strike out the case because of a lack of jurisdiction. A ruling is expected shortly.

The IDB website recognises the brain-drain of ICT graduates in Guyana as a “serious” risk facing the project, one which cannot be addressed by the project alone. The updated profile of the project says people would continue to migrate from Guyana as long as local services are “deficient”, poverty is “ubiquitous” and employment opportunities and income earning possibilities for the young are “limited”.

The project will create a number of job-opportunities to mitigate this risk but retaining skills would depend on the long-term viability of the project.

Yale Holder, head of the management information systems unit at the Ministry of Finance, which would lend support to the ICT project, said the project would provide support to the University of Guyana whilst room is also created for investment by the private sector. He said once the industry gets off the ground and is sustainable, it should be in a position to retain and even attract ICT graduates from abroad.

An ICT unit has been established within the Office of the President to implement the project and is to be headed by Rachel Sankar. It is anticipated that once implementation gets underway, a number of investors would establish ICT export-oriented operations in Guyana as the country’s location is considered ideal and offers affordable labour costs and linguistic, cultural and time zone affinities with major markets in North America. Having 35% of its population less than 15 years of age is also seen as a tremendous asset for Guyana as it can develop a base of ICT workers.

The objective of the ICT project is to increase competitiveness in that sector to accelerate economic and social development. It intends to foster the use of ICT in the private and public sectors. The project has five components with US$2.2M earmarked to support the ICT unit in the Office of the President to refine and implement the ICT development strategy. An advisory board is to be set up to oversee policy and strategy implementation. The ICT unit would receive support via an internationally recruited firm providing two long-term expatriate staff and as well as short-term specialised consultants.

A small part of the project funds (US$400,000) would be used to update laws to create the enabling environment for ICT development whilst modernising the way government operates would take up US$3.1M.

This component would seek to improve communications between government agencies; citizens and the government; and businesses and the government. It includes improving web pages for all agencies and making available online important government forms. This would reduce transaction -costs in Guyana. This component would establish the capacity to operate and maintain networks and systems.

Installing computers and networking the post offices would allow these to serve as the main interface between citizens and the government. Post offices would provide forms and accept applications for government services as well as payments. A centralised help desk to support ICT users would also be financed.

Improving the processes of selected agencies including the General Registrar’s Off-ice, the Revenue Authority, the Tender Board, the traffic section of the Police Force as well as the Ministry of Agriculture is also covered. It would mean digitising records of births, deaths and marriages; listing and updating customs tariffs schedule; developing a process and data base to streamline the issuance of tax compliance certificates; putting procurement notices on-line as well as the awards by the tender board and information of value to potential bidders. The possibility of e-procurement would be looked at as well.

There is a US$3M component for community outreach to promote the use of the internet by individuals including secondary schools and establishing learning-centres. Under this component, grants would be provided to finance ICT initiatives to improve the welfare of communities via the use of ICTs.

The sum of US$2M would be used to promote ICT service exports. The intention behind this component is to increase the attractiveness of Guyana as a site for e-service exports.

And US$4.3M would finance connectivity to all the project activities by allowing for investment in the infrastructure required whilst US$3.8M would be spent on human capital development.

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