A LITTLE more than a year in his post, the Minister of Digital Transformation Hassel Bacchus describes his performance as “passable”. His self-assessment of “fair” is due to him being a badass.
“For me, I could never say I’ve done enough. We have achieved a lot and I want to be able to do more,” he told The Sunday Business in an interview last week.
He said one of his “greatest successes” has been making the public service more digitally aware and showing it how to be effective.
“Since my appointment I have attended probably six physical Cabinet meetings, a few of which were retreats. We do Online Cabinet. We do the Finance and General Purposes (F&GP) Committee online. All of our committee meetings are done online. It’s definitely more efficient. Covid may have pushed us there, but those are lessons we learned,” he said.
So where exactly is his ministry on digital transformation?
He explained that digital transformation is not limited to the performance of one ministry but to the entire public service.
“It’s a question of alignment. Everything that happened before was done in silos. The departments did not communicate with each other. There were different levels of security, there was no coordination on purchasing laptops or software across departments. So we were able to step in and streamline a lot of that. There is a lot going on in the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Works and Transport,” he said.
“You know how when you build a new building there’s a galvanizing to keep the public from seeing it? Yet the job is done? Well, that’s exactly what it is. We do the work, but it’s meticulous, it takes time, but it gets done. And one day we can move the galvanizing and show our customers what we’ve done. Notice I say customers because that’s how we see them. Customers are not just people who consume the services. Customers also involve the people who provide the services. They are all public offices. So when we talk about the implementation of technology, yes, it’s focused on the consumer, but also on the processes that enable delivery,” he said.
And what kind of calendar does it work with?
He is hesitant to commit to a specific date, explaining that digital transformation is not an overnight solution and would be an ever-evolving process as things change over time.
“It’s a trip. Not a destination. There is no end,” he said.
In an interview last year after his appointment to the new ministry on July 21, 2021, Bacchus said that if government policies are aligned with the People’s National Movement Vision 2030, there will be gradual steps with a number of milestones to be achieved. achieve by next year.
“It is difficult to set a definite timeframe for change, but I would say 2030 is a reasonable target for the concept of a digital T&T. By then, this would mean that we would have a quality, secure and resilient infrastructure in place. We would have optimized ICT in our daily lives, making our people more productive, our business and public services would be run digitally, and digital technology would be in harmony with the ICT environment.
“We will also have, and this is very important, a digital sector which will contribute to our GDP and earn us foreign currency. But as I mentioned before, getting there requires massive businesses and big leaps the size of Moko Jumbie. But with the right capacity and infrastructure, nothing is impossible,” he said.
In March, Bacchus said 94 government services were available online and that by the end of the year he hopes to reach 200.
Hits and misses
Bacchus described the implementation of the TT Travel Pass as a success, but acknowledged that the traveling public did not like it.
“Not once has the website been taken offline,” he said.
As for the vaccination cards that did not materialize?
He explained that two solutions had been designed for the government – one from Singapore-based Crimson Logic, which previously worked for the Department of Trade and Industry. The other was from Riomed, a UK-based company, and one was accepted.
He said what followed were challenges in data collection as there were human errors in entering names.
“The error rate was just too high,” he said.
Responding to a Senate question from the opposition, Bacchus said “investigations and cleanup” had caused a backlog.
He said there was “an unacceptable level of inconsistency in the database, which remains to be queried”.
Bacchus also pointed to malware discovered in December 2021 called Log4j as another reason:
“It required assessment and fixed implementation where it applied…it was quite dangerous and needed to be addressed,” he said.
He said that “no cost was incurred by the government as the companies developed the solution for free”.
As it stands, the solution is still an option that the government can use as a repository for the Ministry of Health of vaccination history.
He said it will be up to Energy Minister Stuart Young, in his capacity as a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, to authorize its use.
In the meantime, Bacchus said he has a lot of work to do when it comes to legislation – some that need to be repealed, some that need to be amended and some that are new.
He said a big challenge with new legislation, which would deal with new technologies, is that it would require a special majority to ensure it does not run counter to citizens’ constitutional rights.
“But the political environment is such that the government has failed to convince the opposition of its initiatives, so legislation that requires a special majority has not been passed,” he noted. .
In an address to officials at a workshop on digital transformation in January, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said his vision was of a transformed T&T where citizens are satisfied with the reach, quality and the delivery of public services that were delivered in a timely manner to people’s need.
He said he envisioned digital technology being fully utilized in both the public and private sectors to improve the ease of doing business and that a transformed public service would enable “an assault on white-colored criminal behavior, which currently thrives with impunity, but which will wither”. whether access is controlled and recorded digitally and the information in the form of evidence identifies who did what, where, when, how and under what authority.
Digitally literate citizens
For his ministry to succeed, Bacchus must have public buy-in: unless he accesses and uses online services, it won’t go fast enough.
So for him a big priority at this point is digital literacy.
He describes this as a cultural shift that needs to take place as the department aims to improve customer understanding of the potential and uses of the internet as a basic good/service and harness its creative and economic potential for digital transformation. .
One of the findings of the 2021 Digital Inclusion Survey conducted by the Trinidad and Tobago Telecommunications Authority (TATT) concluded that over 70% of households have fixed broadband internet service functional (fixed Internet subscription).
Seeking to boost digital literacy, the Ministry of Digital Transformation has set up, in collaboration with the Youth Training and Employment Partnership Program (YTEPP), a functional digital literacy program in centers access to ICT across the country and in YTEPP facilities.
Bacchus told the Sunday Business he was pleased with the reception.
“Last Tuesday, before the PNM policy meeting in Belmont, I stopped at the center there to check in and at 8 o’clock it was still crowded, so I’m happy about that,” he said. he declares.