Eric Rose -Bahamas Information Service
During his keynote remarks at the CANTO Annual Conference and Trade Exhibition, in Miami, Florida, on July 20, 2022, Prime Minister and Minister of Finance the Hon. Philip Davis said that as progress and success were never inevitable, it was so important that, when we regional stakeholders come together, they all commit to “purposeful action”.
Prime Minister Davis asked: “If the mission of CANTO is to ‘enable a digital revolution’, then where is the plan to make it happen? Where is the knowledge and ingenuity and investment that we are willing to apply today? And if we are to achieve something that is truly revolutionary rather than merely evolutionary, then what is the commitment?
“Where is the action?”
According to the organization, CANTO is a non-profit association made up of operators, organizations, companies and individuals in the ICT (telecommunications) sector. The Association has a Caribbean focus as it relates to ICT issues for the region with a global perspective.
Prime Minister Davis noted that, in the Caribbean, it often felt like the Digital Revolution was still “a long time coming”; and the infrastructure and the investment necessary to support it does not seem to live up to any revolutionary drive.
“Almost daily, we are reminded how Information and Communication Technology has the potential to revolutionise our lives,” he said. “It can solve some of the biggest, most urgent problems of our time: in healthcare, in service delivery, in climate change, and so on. In fact, in a week when many countries are experiencing record-high temperatures, we are told that technological solutions
remain one of our best hopes.”
“The revolutionary potential of digital transformation goes further,” Prime Minister Davis added. “It promises fundamental improvements in the quality of life for our people; secure paths to national development; and wealth-creation for successive generations of entrepreneurs.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that The Bahamas recently enacted legislation concerning digital assets. That, he said, created a framework for investment, management, and regulation to encourage and support global players to bring their ventures to The Bahamas.
“Our Sand Dollar was the world’s first digital currency,” he said. “We are actively encouraging businesses in new digital spheres, such as cryptocurrency and blockchain technology.”
“We are using technology to determine our natural carbon sinks, in order to monetize them as carbon credits to be traded on the open markets,” Prime Minister Davis added.
However, Prime Minister Davis said, for the average citizen, those innovations
could seem “very far away from their everyday lives”.
He noted: “We are not yet in the clear from the pandemic. Many people are still very concerned with the basics: jobs, food, housing, transport and so on. And the pressures of inflation, supply-chain issues, and the rise in various conflicts including the war in Ukraine – all of these require urgent attention.”
“But the appetite for technological engagement is there,” Prime Minister Davis said. “I’m talking about more than just the recreational, smartphone uses that have come to play such an essential role in daily life.”
Prime Minister Davis noted that the lockdowns and the isolation during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic certainly changed and amplified how people use technology.
“Zoom went from being a corporate video-calling platform to a common household activity. In fact, many still describe video-calling as the lifeline that kept them sane and kept families connected, especially during the worst of times,” he said. “Some forecasters even speculated that we need never return to face-to-face encounters in education or at work.”
“But the craving for human contact that has returned, suggests that this won’t necessarily be true, he added. “I suspect that many of you here strongly welcomed the chance once again to meet in person. So having come together, what role will the members of CANTO play in defining and facilitating this new normal?”
While making a point about social inclusion, Prime Minister Davis pointed out that, while those at the conference might have clear-sighted views of the potential benefits that technology could bring, they must not lose sight of the fact that some of their Caribbean citizens still lacked access to basic online functions and connectivity.
Prime Minister Davis related an anecdote: “I think of the case of a young man barely literate in The Bahamas who, a few years ago, could go into a hotel lobby looking for a job and then be directed to the Human Resources Department. He might need help in filling in a form before being given a starter job, for example, as a dishwasher. Having secured a position, that young man is now in a position
to grow and develop, and fashion a career for himself.”
“Now, however, because hotels and other large employers have put their entire recruitment process online, that young man will struggle to get his foot in the door,” he continued. “He will struggle to access a computer, and struggle to
confidently complete the forms.”
Prime Minister Davis pointed out that his Government, the private and voluntary sectors had implemented a number of initiatives to improve computer literacy; but the present reality was that there was still those who still struggled to gain
“What can we collectively do to maximise social inclusion?” he asked. “What can we do to ensure that no-one is left behind in this digital revolution?”
Prime Minister Davis said that he believed that there was “enormous potential” in the region to take advantage of a digital revolution.
“We have a unique opportunity to create ‘SMART cities’, complete with 5G technology, expanded access to always-on connectivity, and cashless ecosystems,” he said. “We can strengthen our democracies and increase trust between governments and the people, if we use technology to substantially improve the delivery of government services.“And we can be bold and we can be brave in how we achieve this.”
That was where those present at the conference could play a significant role inhelping the region move towards fulfilling that vision, Prime Minister Davis said.
“At the moment, I see signs of aging infrastructures, some of which are poorly-maintained and certainly suffer from underinvestment,” he noted. “Some major corporate actors seem very focused on withdrawing early profits, rather than
maximising long-term investment for long-term rewards.”
Prime Minister Davis said that, perhaps, the answer lay in increased competition.
“The relatively small size of our individual markets is one of the factors that has historically, given rise to a number of protectionist practices in various jurisdictions,” he said. “Are we now at the moment when we need to make
adjustments, to encourage more competition into the space?”
“Will greater market forces lead to better services and better products for our people?”