Minister Cuffie's address at the re-launch of Columbus Business Solutions
November 5, 2015: The following is the keynote address made by the Minister of Communications, the Honourable Maxie Cuffie on the evening of November 4 at the Re-Launch of the C&W Business (formerly Columbus Business Solutions). Minister Cuffie attended the event which was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on behalf of the Prime Minister, Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley.
A pleasant good evening to you all!
Let me first indicate that due to a prior commitment, Dr. the Honourable Keith Rowley is unable to be here with you this evening but he extends best wishes to the Cable and Wireless team as they embark on this new business phase. I have been asked to deliver this Address on his behalf so I will do my best to represent him well.
It is my distinct pleasure to stand here this evening to address you at the launch of C&W Business!
Trinidad and Tobago has indeed had a long history with Cable and Wireless which since 1969 has provided our link to the outside world. The world has changed, Trinidad and Tobago has changed, and the event we are marking this evening shows that Cable and Wireless has changed.
While we are still negotiating our divorce settlement from TSTT, this evening’s event is demonstration that Cable and Wireless has indeed moved on and we wish you the best in your new marriage with Columbus Communications. C&W Business, I am told, is one of the early fruits of the new union.
Like the relationship between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and Cable and Wireless, the information era is radically transforming and changing long established relationships and even the way we do things.
Ladies and gentlemen, historically, our economy has relied on and remained prosperous due in great part to our vibrant and active energy sector. Like Cable and Wireless, the Government of Trinidad Tobago recognises that we can no longer be wedded to the old paradigm. As a new government we are rethinking all our relationships. Two weeks ago, Cabinet agreed to the appointment of a team headed by renowned economist Dr Terrance Farrell to examine the operations of our state-owned enterprises, including TSTT. And last week, Cabinet agreed to the appointment of an Economic Development Board, also chaired by Dr Farrell, and including some of the most respected economic minds in Trinidad and Tobago, to advise the Prime Minister on forging a new economic direction for this country.
We cannot expect to do the same things and expect a different result. Just like Cable and Wireless we need to adapt if we are to survive. Cable and Wireless has been around, I am told, since 1866 and has not just survived but thrived in the face of changes that have led to the closure of several competitors in the course of the 149 years since then.
Like Cable and Wireless, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago recognises that we need to change if we are to survive as a prosperous nation. We must innovate, we need to transform, we have to find ways to diversify our economy in order to guarantee our nation’s future survival. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is transforming the way that we in Trinidad and Tobago and the entire world, interact, recreate and conduct business. In fact, the successful adoption and use of new technologies are critical to developing a more competitive economy.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we are to examine the economies of developing and developed countries, we would see that they have been transformed due in great measure to the incorporation of ICTs by the private sector, as well as the state sector.
While we, in Trinidad and Tobago, have made some strides in ICT use and penetration over the years, and have done satisfactorily in the ICT Development Index, we still need to do much better. Yes, many local businesses may have incorporated ICTs into their operations; however, many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and even some of the larger entities, are still reluctant and might I even say, fearful to embrace technology. This is due in great part to some of the barriers to the adoption of e-business methods. Some of our own processes, including doing business with the state, belong more to the analogue era.
Increasingly, however, we have over time, been taking small steps to benefit SMEs and the adoption of ICTs. These include:
TTBizlink, which offers a variety of e-government services with interconnectivity to more than a dozen Government departments. Over one thousand (1,000) businesses and individuals are active users. Through this platform, persons are able to complete the documentation for Work Permits, Import/Export Permit and Licenses, Company Registration and Goods Declaration electronically; increasing the ease of doing business.
FairShare. In an attempt to make the award of government contracts more equitable, the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development’s FairShare Programme provides special online notifications for SMEs in relation to tenders valued up to TT$1 million.
Community-Based Incubators (IBIS). The National Integrated Business Incubation System (IBIS) Programme aims to encourage the creation of competitive and innovative SMEs by offering interventions to address problems typically faced by these enterprises, such as prohibitive overhead costs, technology and information deficiencies, insufficient funding, and low levels of ‘best-practice’ acumen.
E-Payments. This solution allows online financial transactions between all sectors of society and the Government and is the gateway which will make conducting business with Government more efficient. E-Payments will also allow for the access and verification of account information in a secure real-time environment. It is our intention to finalise this process in the shortest possible time.
Ladies and gentlemen, a strong governmental commitment to ICT is one of several critical elements which are needed to accelerate entrepreneurship and innovation. This is a commitment that this Administration takes seriously and a commitment on which we intend to deliver. The transformation of Trinidad and Tobago into a more dynamic knowledge-based society, driven by the innovative use ICTs to enhance the social and economic development of our people, remains a major priority for us.
Some of our immediate plans for ICT development and entrepreneurship which were included in our election manifesto that is now government policy include:
1 The Initiation of a process for a free island-wide public broadband wireless network, starting with free public hotspots in popular areas. We believe this will reduce the digital divide by providing greater access and foster the creation of knowledge-based, information driven society.
2 Ensuring that all students in all schools have free and easy access to fast broadband internet in all schools. We are moving beyond the mere provision of laptops, which is nothing more than a vehicle, to easing travel on the information super-highway via broadband.
3 Ensure that appropriate strategies are developed in partnership with local manufacturers to create and sustain a more enabling business environment in order to facilitate increased global competitiveness of local business thus encouraging competition, small business development and entrepreneurship.
And this is where C&W Business comes in.
Ladies and Gentlemen, quantitative research, along with real-world examples from emerging and advanced nations, firmly underscore the social and economic benefits of ICT. These benefits include increases in the pace and quality of innovations, as well as macroeconomic benefits such as per-capita GDP growth, job creation, and rapid improvements in labour and total factor productivity. If we deliver on our plans, as we fully intend to do, the ICT sector can indeed become a major contributor to GDP, in the shortest possible time.
A couple months ago, Anthony Phills, developed a savvy mobile app for Hilton Hotels which is making waves in the tech world globally. Working as lead Android designer, Phills redesigned the Hilton’s Honours App from the ground up. With the new look, users will be presented with a better user experience, bolder look, edge-to-edge photography during the booking process including the use of interactive cards. Mr. Phills is from Trinidad and Tobago and is just one demonstration of our potential in ICT!
It is clear, ladies and gentlemen that in order to become competitive and move from a small business to a medium-sized business to a large enterprise, innovation is a key ingredient to this success.
I am impressed with the services and solutions of C&W Business which I do believe will provide small and medium enterprises with the necessary tools to assist them in the transformation of their business.
I see, my Cabinet colleague, the Honourable Randall Mitchell, Minister of Public Administration, is present here this evening. Minister Mitchell has direct oversight for some aspects of the ICT portfolio and I do encourage you to engage him before the evening has ended, for more information on Government’s plans for the sector.
In closing, let me also express my best wishes to Mr. Collins and the entire Cable and Wireless Communications team as they manage this rebranding process which I am sure is not an easy one.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the courtesy of your attention and I look forward to more mutually rewarding partnerships between the private sector and the Government of Trinidad and Tobago as we execute our National ICT strategy.
Do enjoy the rest of the evening and I wish you a safe journey home.
Corporate Communications Unit
Ministry of Communications