Guyana lags behind region in ICT development

(  – GCCI President says telecoms liberalization ‘can’t come fast enough’

Guyana continues to lag behind much of the Caribbean Community in terms of effective implementation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) both as a cross-cutting component to impact positively on the other sectors of the economy and as a sector to stand up on its own.

“We are losing opportunities,” President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Lance Hinds told Stabroek Business in an exclusive interview on Tuesday. “No one is waiting for us. Other countries in the region, including the smaller islands are busy re-engineering themselves to become ICT hubs. We need to act to develop our ICT sector otherwise we will most certainly get left behind.

“The fact is that we badly need a national ICT policy. The government has already made commitments to this at the level of Caricom Heads of Government as a means of improving the lives of our people. Those commitments, and others, as far as realizing key ICT goals remain unmet.”

According to Hinds, Guyana needs to wake up quickly “to what’s happening in other parts of the region as far as ICT development is concerned. Jamaica, for example, probably has about 25,000 jobs in the ICT sector and the sector is providing perhaps three to four per cent of GDP as we speak. Other countries in the region are getting up and getting. They realize that IT is the way to go.”

Despite what Hinds says is “an overall slow pace of progress in the development of the ICT sector in Guyana,” he singled out “commercial banks and other well-known private sector entities as local institutions that had “made significant headway” in infusing ICT into their operations. “What these entities have done is to make the investments that have taken them into the twenty-first century as far as ICT is concerned. At the state level there has also been evidence of investment by the Ministry of Home Affairs in an ICT capacity that enhances communication among police stations and enables the more efficient management of information. Beyond that, we haven’t really done as much as we should be doing.”

Hinds said ICT has several entry points noting that “the beauty with ICT has to do with how much you can do and the points at which you can enter the market and the volume of revenue that it can bring in. Before we can get there we need to build an ICT environment and a culture of ICT in Guyana. We do not have that at this time. We talk the talk but that’s about it.”

Meanwhile, Hinds, who is also Chief Executive Officer of the local ICT Company Brain Street said that critical to the issue of setting the country’s ICT sector on the correct path is the liberalization of the telecommunications sector. “The truth of the matter is that the liberalization of the telecommunications sector can’t come fast enough. What we hope to see coming out of liberalization is a level of competition that will lower the price of enterprise level connectivity. At the moment, the costs restrict businesses in their efforts to provide external services.”

Hinds disclosed, meanwhile, that the Georgetown Chamber will continue to lobby for liberalization. “Conversations on liberalization need to open more. It is staying with the major players as though they are the only entities with an interest. Liberalization will help businesses across the board to have a choice of the kind of high speed services that you have on the market. At the moment the high prices that you have are the result of the prevailing monopoly condition.”

Hinds told Stabroek Business that apart from his own professional interest in the matter of telecommunications liberalization, he believed that support for a liberalized regime was “probably one of the more practical ways in which the Chamber could provide support for the private sector in Guyana.”

Apart from making existing businesses more efficient and more profitable, he said, a liberalized telecommunications sector can also allow for the creation of new enterprises and new jobs.