Belize ICT Strategy: Inputs Provided

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Belize is working on the above and the CO contacted me for advise. All related documents are here: Belize Docs.

These are my inputs.

1. I am impressed by the quality of the research that has been done in  terms of e-readiness and ICT benchmarking. This is really a good professional job and will certainly serve as a solid basis for future policy design and programme implementation.

2. In terms of e-readiness, this was a concept that emerged in the late 1990s perhaps in the midst of the first dot-com bubble. I recall that Harvard used to have an interactive site when one could quickly get an e-readiness index for any country by entering some basic information. In those days, the main concerned of most of us involved on ICT for development was access and connectivity. I am not too sure we are facing a similar reality today if we take into account the explosive  use of mobile technologies, Belize included. Still, having an ideas of where we are in this area is important.

3. The weak spot in most e-readiness assessments has been it relation to development priorities and say the achievement of Internationally Agreed Development Goals. Having read the MDG report you enclosed, there is certainly some important work that remains to be done in the country to achieve some of the key targets, and certainly ICTD can be a good catalyst. The paradox is that the diffusion of mobiles have been much more rapid that the full achievement of any of the MDG targets AND the former has had no apparent effect whatsoever on the latter. So what if almost every single person has access to a mobile device? How can we translate this into a tool for further enhancing human development? I certainly did not expect the e-readiness report to answer this question. I think that is where we at UNDP can contribute.

4. Having seen the short and long term national development plans, we should be careful in avoiding two well-known traps: 1) First, we should not add to the already busy current national development agendas another priority such as ICTs. I think the ICT strategy avoids this. But there is one caveat. If Belize really wants to become a player in the 21st Century knowledge economy then it needs to develop an ICT sector and the required human capacities, entrepreneurship’s and R&D. This is indeed mention in the strategy; 2) We should avoid trying to plug in ICTs into each and every single development priority of the country.
Having seen this in other countries (as well as here at the UN for the MDGs) this might end reducing the credibility to ICTs themselves in the eyes of those decision makers that are not entirely convinced about its importance. A better approach is to avoid this instrumentalist view of ICTs and instead pick priority areas, low hanging fruits and quick wins to really show how can ICTs make a difference in many (not all!) areas.

5. I was also surprised to see that the ICT strategy also includes an e-government strategy. Most countries where we have done this type of policy work usually have separate strategies sometimes run by different ministries. The approach of the strategy is thus smart and can help the country leap-frog others but will require additional focus to make it work in the short and medium term.

6. I am also glad the the current strategy did some multi-stakeholder consultations. This is essential to get buy in not only from government sectors and line ministries but also from citizens and stakeholder who in the end are the ultimate beneficiaries on all these efforts.

7. The strategy presents a vision statement followed by 16 “ultimate outcomes” for ICT and then 27 priority areas for e-government. The strategy document is short and goes right the point. No need for more at this stage of the game. The strategy has also made efforts to link to the Horizon 2030 development objectives which is also a great  approach.

8. The vision statement seems to suggest that enhanced human development for all will happen when ICTs are available to all. This definitively places the focus on the access and connectivity part of ICTs and seems to forget the importance of ICT application in fostering citizen participation, efficiency, transparency and accountability. Furthermore, the evidence out there does not seem to support this statement as for example countries with hing Internet penetration still have high levels of poverty and relatively low HDIs, etc. In many other countries with similar strategies the vision statement does not make
direct reference to ICT. That is actually done on the mission statement which is yet not part of the current draft agenda.

9. The strategy does not seem to make an effort to link the 16 ICT outcomes with the 27 priority areas. Some do overlap after all. This will help not only reduce the number of priorities but also could foster work across different line ministries, etc.

10. Several countries have, in addition to a national policy strategy on ICT and/or e-government, also developed an implementation strategy where priorities are ranked and estimates of the estimated cost for each is compiled. Such additional strategy is a better tool not only for potential resource mobilization but also for the actual implementation.

Cheers, Raúl

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