Dear Prime Minister (2010)

BitDepth #732, originally published in the Trinidad Guardian on May 25, 2010.

This is my first open letter to the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and as I write this, five days in the past, that I have no idea whether I am writing to a man or a woman. So let’s skip the Mr and Mrs and get down to the messes.
Today, the issue of who rises and who falls will be resolved, but regardless of who is going to form the Cabinet, the status quo of governance is going to be the same as it was yesterday.

It’s not unreasonable to expect that the person elected by the people of Trinidad and Tobago to lead the government over the next five years will be assembling a fresh leadership team and there are now opportunities for new approaches.
This column won’t be offering any solutions for crime. My interests lie firmly with the development of technology and its leveraged use.

Over the years, technology issues that demand attention in Trinidad and Tobago which have received short shrift, largely, I think because the folks leading the development of projects at the highest levels really don’t understand what’s required.
Some of the young people who work in the salt mines of public service initiatives whisper their frustrations with the glacial pace of implementation and wrongheadedness of priorities in the government’s approach to the development of IT infrastructure.

Much of what has passed for success in the public sector programme for IT development consists of the distribution of pretty kiosks, long overdue improvements in public sector networking still almost a decade behind best practices and taking the credit for private sector competitive investment in the broadband market.
So if the rather staid incumbents in the public sector try to persuade you that all is well in IT development in Trinidad and Tobago, here are a few of the critical issues that remain to be addressed.

Soon after the UNC first came to office, they removed the duty payable on imported computers. The impact of that small but crucial decision is still being felt to day. The importation of computers by individuals through skybox services exploded immediately afterward and hasn’t stopped since.
This remains a crucial initiative that isn’t complete. Too many products used in computing remain in limbo, subject to the interpretation of Customs officers.

It’s clear that widespread access to affordable computers has been a good thing, now it’s time to loosen the reins on everything else related to personal and professional information technology implementations. What we earn in duty doesn’t compensate for stifled investments.
Integration of computer technology into the school system remains an execution of hardware, with devices parachuted into institutions without enough thought about how they will be integrated into the learning process.

Schools need well coached teachers. They may never be as savvy with the systems as their charges, but they need to lead the integration of computer potential into the education process.
Open governance has improved significantly after recent interventions by the Ministry of Public Administration, but the holy grail of online transactions for routine public to government matters remains a mythical beast.

A growing percentage of outgoing IP traffic from Trinidad and Tobago is going to servers that are providing local content from ISPs in the United States. Local server mirroring could turn the tide of bandwidth use. The technology, I’m told, is all in the creation of an IXP, an Internet exchange point that keeps local traffic to local content within Trinidad and Tobago.

Creating a local server centre that mirrors popular local content, routed by IP address, would keep local web traffic local. The cost of establishing the infrastructure would be recouped in the significant reduction of IP traffic on expensive broadband pipe that’s pulling our own content back to us.

There’s lots more, of course, including the crazy decisions and inordinately hip but utterly tangential directions that have kept eTeck in Tamana from defining its role more clearly and actually getting anything done.
My dear friend, I’m always happy to discuss these matters. Have your people call my people if you need more clarification.