ICTs and Pacific Islands
Pacific islands have made recent advances in applying ICTs, despite serious constraints.

Advances There are examples from Pacific island countries which show that the new capabilities associated with ICTs can help to:

SIMPLIFY GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY; For example, a United Nations’ virtual meeting last January linked governments and NGOs in 10 countries with a listserv. A productive exchange took place, saving over US$25,000 in travel costs, and cutting out wasted travel time by busy officials. For details, see www.fiji-gov.apdip.net/governance

BREAK DOWN BARRIERS BETWEEN FUNCTIONAL DOMAINS; The Fiji Public Service Commission (PSC) is introducing a personnel management system to facilitate, among many things, more effective training, and monitoring the performance of participants of the newly established Senior Executive Service. The new system will facilitate decentralization of former PSC functions to line ministries, providing for entry and maintenance of personnel records by line ministries, linked by an Intranet to PSC.

ALLOW PUBLIC SERVICES TO BE REORIENTED TO SOLVING PROBLEMS FOR CLIENTS; The Federated States of Micronesia uses a web-based system linked with Hawaii for medical advice on difficult cases. A listserv links over 100 doctors in Pacific islands, serving as an early warning system on outbreaks of disease, and a mechanism for asking for advice from their colleagues. The University of the South Pacific offers distance education in member countries through remote campuses linked by phone, fax and Internet to the main campus in Fiji.

OPEN UP GOVERNMENT, MAKING IT MORE TRANSPARENT AND ACCOUNTABLE; The Solomon Islands recently used the web to help it assess the prior experience of an international contractor bidding on a government contract to do preshipment inspection of logging exports. Prior to the availability of such easy scrutiny, contracts were approved with firms that sometimes turned out to be unqualified and/or unethical. Last year in Vanuatu, the Ombudsman’s Office set up a listserv to get legal advice on defending itself before the High Court, against a suit by the Council of Ministers (many of whom were accused in Ombudsman reports of misconduct) seeking to abolish the office. The Ombudsman’s Office succeeded in its legal defence, although the Ombudsman Act was subsequently repealed by Parliament.

AND DEVELOP NEW FORMS OF CITIZEN PARTICIPATION. Web-based chat sites such as the Tonga Kava Bowl and Niugini.com facilitate free-wheeling political discussion difficult to sustain in regulated print media. They also allow participation from the diaspora in the USA, Australia and New Zealand in the political debates of their countries.

Constraints The main constraints holding up advances such as these are the high cost of ICT in the region, and lack of ICT skills.

Costs are particularly high for Internet access. In Fiji, for example, the cost for a 64K Internet circuit is US$10,100 per month, which is over nine times the cost of a comparable circuit in Jamaica. One reason is the local ISP has a monopoly, although the Government has promised to open up to competition next year. Other regional telcoms companies have prohibited the University of the South Pacific from installing links to its Intranet in their countries, because of worries about their monopoly positions. This prevents their extension students from using the USP online library and other learning tools.

There are needs for developing ICT skills among technicials, policy makers, and users. A United Nations project in Kuala Lumpur is training officials from the Asia-Pacific region in subjects ranging from router technology (benefiting from staff and equipment donated by Cisco) to Information Technology Policy and Regulation. For more on this, see www.apdip.net

Hands-on national workshops will demonstrate to users ICT applications already adding value in Pacific islands, and stimulate participants to develop their own ideas, and to lobby for more user-friendly ICT policies.

Clay Wescott, UNDP, Suva, Fiji, Cwescott@undp.org.fj

 Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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