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Ministry of Finance aims to take services online

Addressing representatives from the business sector, Financial Secretary Ehurd Cunningham spoke of how an e-government project is set to improve the financial services industry. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Ministry of Finance has vowed to bring several key services online by July 2011 in a bid to improve efficiency and communication with the government.

The government hopes the new www.govnet.bs portal will bring about faster processing for applications and payments to a range of departments. Services expected to be online next year under the new initiative include payments for business licence fees and property taxes, renewal of driver’s licences and allowing vendors to monitor purchase orders from government.

Addressing representatives from the business sector at a forum held earlier this month, Financial Secretary Ehurd Cunningham spoke of how the e-government project would improve the financial services industry.

He said: “The United Nations has ranked The Bahamas 65 out of 184 countries in terms of e-government services; we have an opportunity to improve on this. This will be possible if we take advantage of modern tools and practices.

“This is a major initiative for The Bahamas and will drastically change the way we conduct business and interact with government agencies.”

In developing the new website the government is partnering with the government of Singapore’s technology subsidiary IDA International.

Consultants from IDA arrived in The Bahamas early in 2010 to assess current technological capability, identify gaps in service and make recommendations for improving those services, to bring about time and cost savings, as well as delivering value to citizens and businesses. The six-month study highlighted failings within the government’s IT services such as a lack of transactional services online and no government-wide payment gateway.

The government intends to act upon the group’s recommendations by establishing a government ICT (information communication technology) Committee, which will oversee the work of Chief Information Officers appointed from each ministry. A new Department of IT will also be created.

The roll-out of these changes is beginning with a public information campaign to raise awareness of the plans. It is anticipated that the entire restructuring effort will be completed by July 2011–when the first round of services go online–but Director of Information June Collie stresses that it is a long-term plan and will take between five and 10 years to implement fully throughout the country.

Finance Minister Zhivargo Laing adds: “We envision a Bahamas where technology is the driver in all sectors in our society: tourism, education, financial services, government, health care, transportation and commerce.

“A lot of work must be done in terms of trying to get people to understand what e-government is and to understand the benefits that e-government can provide. We really want to have a significant launch, and then take subsequent opportunities to meet with even smaller groups to talk about it as we implement it.”

The insurance giant Colina Insurance Ltd teamed up with local firm Karma Design on a company-wide rebranding, winning the coveted Silver Quill Award in Publication Design for its 2009 Annual Report.

In The Bahamas there is an absence of direct taxation, with the government gaining income through taxes on imported goods and materials. The tariff rate of 33 per cent may have to be reviewed once the jurisdiction joins the World Trade Organization.

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