TALLINN, Estonia, Thursday November 1, 2018 – After an intensive week of training and consultations in Estonia, a group of Caribbean policy makers is inspired to improve digital governance in the region.
With a population of 1.3 million people, Estonia is the world’s leading example of how Information and Communications Technology (ICT) could be used to improve the lives of citizens and their interaction with the state. Based on Estonia’s track record of ICT innovation, the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB) designed and funded a week of training at the Estonian e-governance academy to support the reform and modernization of Caribbean public administration using the tools of ICT.
The cornerstone of Estonia’s e-governance system is the establishment of each citizen’s strong digital identity. This is bolstered by secure data exchange and connectivity. Information on every citizen of Estonia is stored in government agency databases. This could include medical records, school records and tax history. Secure digital gateways then link individual data to other files. A system called ‘X-Road’ connects citizens’ records to doctors, the police, banks or any other agencies with whom individual users interact. With 99 per cent of all government services available online and a growing number of private services also available, it means that written prescriptions, paper forms, and long lines are extinct in Estonia. There is also the ‘once only’ principle that ensures citizens never have to enter the same data twice. Additionally, the e-governance system has proven to be secure, since citizens are the owners of their data. Breaches are flagged, and perpetrators are punished under law.
During the week of training, Caribbean policy makers were introduced to a vast array of ICT-related solutions. They learned how Estonia’s e-governance system was created, as well as challenges in implementation and successes over the years, including savings of two per cent of GDP. Of particular interest to the Caribbean delegates were the sessions on e-health solutions, e-policing, i-voting for nationwide elections, and the company registration portal. Delegates were impressed to discover that it is possible to register a new company in Estonia in less than 20 minutes. It currently takes between three and 21 days to open a business in the Caribbean.
As part of the training, delegates were asked to reflect upon what they had learned and how it could improve government services in the Caribbean region. The delegates spoke openly about being inspired to drive policy changes. They also initiated the creation of a roadmap to accelerate the implementation of a digital agenda in each of the countries represented.
The International Best Practices Study Tour to Estonia was funded by the IDB. The tour was attended by high-level policy makers, including ministers of government and permanent secretaries from The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago as well as senior IDB executives including Caribbean Country Department General Manager Therese Turner-Jones. The training courses were tailor-made for the Caribbean delegates based on the status of the digital agenda in each country.