PORT-OF-SPAIN – The Caribbean faces a number of complex, deep-rooted and interrelated challenges. Human resource development, economic growth, sustainable development and climate change all featured prominently on the agenda for the recently held 25th intersessional meeting of the conference of heads of government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
A recurring theme in the quest to find solutions to these challenges is the role of Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Its prominence on the agenda was far from accidental. CARICOM Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRocque described ICT as “the new frontier for regional integration”.
“The creation of a Single ICT Space within our community should be pursued vigorously in our efforts to bring technology to the people,” said LaRocque.
The regional body plans to focus over the next two years on developing a Single ICT Space as the digital layer of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy.
But history has proven that it will take more that speeches and press releases to bring this to pass. It has been almost a quarter-century between Caricom’s 25th intersessional and its tenth meeting of Heads of Government in 1989, when the notion of a common telecommunications space was first introduced.
Bevil Wooding, an international technology expert and one of the leading ICT voices in the Caribbean, believes the time is right, but rhetoric must be matched by investment in actual doing.
“The intention (to create a single space), though noble, is long overdue. Twenty-five years later, that dream is yet to be fully realised. If the timespan is an indication of the pace with which current declaration will be pursued by the regional body, then a catalyst must be found,” Wooding said.
“The survival of the region’s economies depends on its ability leverage modern technology to produce, compete and excel in the global environment,” he added.
The work of implementing ICT development policy objectives falls largely on the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), which plays a significant role in coordinating the region’s response to technology-related challenges. In fact, the CTU was also established 25 years ago–the same year that the World Wide Web was invented.
“The work of advancing the technology development agenda of the Caribbean region cannot be done in isolation, nor can it be done by public sector agencies alone,” cautioned Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the CTU.
“The implementation of the Caribbean ICT development strategy is the collective responsibility of Governments, the private sector, civil society and other organisations. The work must take place in concert with the major decisions being made on the international stage. The Caribbean must participate at this level because decisions are being made regarding the evolution of the global Internet which have serious implications for our ability to effectively leverage ICTs for development,” Lewis said.
Through extensive regional public education activities, such as its Caribbean ICT Roadshow, Caribbean Internet Governance Forum, and Strategic Ministerial Seminar series, the CTU has already established a track record of creating awareness across various sectors of Caribbean society of the importance of Internet Governance to the region.
“Making Caribbean leaders more aware of their role evolving Internet governance in the region and at a global level is a major priority,” Lewis said.