CUPECOY–Prime Minister William Marlin envisions St. Maarten as being a smart city or a smart island in the not-too-distant future.
Marlin made the comments during the sixth annual Governor’s Symposium themed “ICT Governance – Shaping Our Future,” held at American University of the Caribbean (AUC) School of Medicine in Cupecoy on Friday.
In addition to the various presentations made by speakers, the symposium featured a presentation about Information Communication Technology (ICT) in education by St. Maarten Academy students and a panel discussion by experts in the industry.
In his remarks during the opening ceremony, Marlin said the theme of the forum called for a re-thinking and re-imagining of what a future St. Maarten should be like in terms of its use and integration of Information Technology in everyday life. The ultimate purpose of a smart city, he noted, is the marrying of infrastructure to the needs of the people in such a way that it facilitates fair and equal access to government services and significantly reduces bureaucracy while greatly enhancing participation of the citizenry.
“In other words, a smart city employs digital technology to improve the lives of the people that reside in it,” Marlin told the audience, adding that “For this to happen, government must be able to offer strategic leadership not only by embracing technology and innovation, but also by encouraging and nurturing the creativity of its citizens, especially the young and talented tech entrepreneurs.”
He said the investment that is required in human capital means that St. Maarten should redesign its educational system for it to be able to produce “smart” people without whom there can be no smart city. “In fact, a smart city is known by its ability to attract and keep knowledgeable citizens. Amsterdam, one of Europe’s smart cities, is also a knowledge city that boasts 21 universities of applied sciences with 40 per cent of its population having higher education.
“We will also need to invest, of course, in technology. This requires a huge financial outlay over a period of time. Needless to say government does not have that financial possibility at the moment, but we cannot shy away from ensuring that we have enough capacity and backbone as well as high-speed Internet in all corners of St. Maarten if we want to transform the island into a Smart City.”
St. Maarten will also need to adopt an effective and efficient use of technology not only in government administration but also in schools, banks, businesses, healthcare, traffic and security services. “Only an effective public-private partnership will enable us achieve such a goal. I am convinced, however, that we shall get there if we follow a road map using the famous PPT – People, Processes and Technology in a creative way. This means that we must study our people to determine their real needs, and understand their uniqueness as well as their ideals and goals in life. Then we will have to develop a Smart City Policy and design plans and strategies on how the goals will be achieved. All of this must be done through an intensive involvement of the people in a transparent and easy manner that can be strengthened through the use of technology, for example, e-government.”
Marlin continued: “Wouldn’t it be a great leap into the future for St. Maarten if our citizens could file their taxes online and apply for government permits, shop for groceries and receive their medical reports on their smart phones? Wouldn’t it make government more responsive if people could offer suggestions and file complaints directly to the various ministries and receive responses within hours?”
Marlin said he guessed this was what VROMI Minister Christophe Emmanuel had in mind when he launched the new App recently that would give the public direct access to officials in his ministry.
“What I am talking about is, of course, a paperless government serving a very wired community. It is the future our children deserve. It is the direction we have to go if we don’t want to be left behind in this 21st century.”
In his remarks Governor Eugene Holiday said the goal of the symposium was to increase awareness of the importance and of the risks involved in Information Communication Technology. “My intention is to contribute to the further development of an ICT-governance agenda towards the shaping of our nation’s future. At this symposium regional and national speakers and panellists will speak and interact with you on developments in ICT with a focus on infrastructure, innovations, threats, security and governance each from their own perspective. It is my hope that you will have an enjoyable and fruitful symposium,” Holiday said.
“I believe that this topic is important because of the potential of ICT actions today to affect and/or spur national growth tomorrow. The potential of ICT is embedded in the fact that increasingly ICT is everywhere, influencing everyone and everything and at the same time highly vulnerable. To put this into perspective it should be noted that it is not that long ago that ICT’s role in our life was hardly noticeable.”
He highlighted some of his personal experiences with ICT from 1982 to 1997, noting that over a span of 35 years and primarily during the last 20 years, ICT has in effect transformed and continues to transform the lives. He said there were people who practically live online; mobile phones have evolved into computers on the go; vehicles are increasingly computers on wheels; medical devices are software driven computers; and these and other devices are becoming increasingly interconnected via the internet.
It is estimated that by 2020, 4 billion people will be connected, using more than 25 million applications, transmitting in excess of 50 trillion gigabytes of data, representing US $4 trillion dollars’ worth of business. In short the transition to the “Internet of Things” where everyone and everything will be interconnected, is upon us and we cannot afford to fall behind, Holiday said.
Holiday said there is a need for a National ICT Governance Agenda: GOS 21.0; which stands for 21st century Governance Operating System. “GOS 21.0 is necessary to navigate the digital world we live in, to ensure a more effective management of our socio-economic development,” he said.
Other speakers at the symposium included Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union Bernadette Lewis, who delivered the keynote address; internet strategist and the Caribbean Outreach Manager for Packet Clearing House Bevil Wooding and Managing Partner of Computect Jean Arnell. Each speaker highlighted aspects of developments in ICT with a focus on infrastructure, innovations, threats, security and governance from their own perspective and discipline.
TelEm Group of Companies Chief Executive Officer Kendall Dupersoy and Founder of Aurora InfoTech Roy Richardson were part of a panel with other persons. A wide cross- section of society and dignitaries attended the symposium including Governor of Aruba Alfonso Boekhoudt and Governor of Curaçao Lucille George-Wout and her husband Herman George.