Digital Town Hall #2: E-Governance and Building a Smart Nation
March 9, 2019
Perspective: Transforming and Economy, Blockchain Applications for Haiti
Daniel Silva has worked in the technology space for 30 years
- He co-owns a technology company based in Washington D.C. with offices in Virginia, North Carolina and Haiti.
- In his early career, Silva worked two jobs in Haiti. He worked closely with the Haitian Institute of Statistics and Informatics and he also worked for a tech company in the private sector.
- He helped develop data entry programs for the 1982 census.
- The private sector company contracted for major government agencies, working with the Électricité d’Haïti (EDH), TELECO, and Direction Nationale de l’Eau Potable et de l’Assoinissement (DINEPA). These agencies outsourced technical services because of human resource constraints.
- Silva then completed a specialization in statistical computing and spent time working with the U.S. Census Bureau.
How is the Haitian government leveraging technology?
- The government follows the World Bank Open-Gov guidelines, posting information about different agencies.
Bitcoin and the idea of cryptocurrency in Haiti
- Think about the recurring cost of printing money and coinage.
- It costs Haiti a fortune to print money and physical notes are difficult to transport.
- There is a counterfeit problem in Haiti where outlaws are creating fake gourdes and circulating them.
- Fungal bacterial and viral contamination are transferred via paper money.
- Physical legal notes are hard to track, making it hard to track people who are laundering money or stashing money that does not circulate through the economy.
- Cryptocurrency could be a potential solution.
Access to internet is a huge barrier to doing anything digitally. How do we increase access to internet?
- We need to build the infrastructure.
- We have to build cyberspace highways.
- The president talks about 24/7 electricity, but he has not built the backbone of the physical infrastructure.
- Most inhabitants of the country have cell phones. Mobile internet may be the lowest hanging fruit to ensure access.
Perspective: The Estonian E-Governance model
The Estonian Model
- Estonia gained independence in 1918. They were occupied by the Soviet Union and regained independence in 1991.
- There were landmark projects that helped the country progress. One example was being bringing computers to all schools in the mid-90s. They also built a data exchange layer in 2001 with distributed database systems. They introduced ID cards in 2002 and has since digitized most public services.
- Widespread usage of ID cards (PKI based system).
- 99% of public services are available digitally.
- 44% of people vote digitally.
- 90% of people file taxes online.
- Estonia was originally a poor country. They only spent 1.3% of the country’s budget on digitalization.
- There is data sharing between different ministries so that they know what projects they are working on (this is an important aspect of e-governance).
Public and private sector partnership
- Ideas come from the government, but the private sector comes up with the solutions.
- Digitalization also allows us to customize services.
- This is about trying to service citizens better and more seamlessly.
What are the challenges and opportunities with digitalization?
- With all the e-governance solutions, we have to think about security.
- When you think about digitalization, you have to think about security hand and hand.
- There was a cyberattack, but they survived it without any data leakages.
Does the population trust the government in the midst of all of this?
- Increased transparency increases public trust.
- Data tracker system: people can see who has viewed their public records.
- Citizens own their own data and they can check who is watching them.
- Access to education to teach the population basic computer and data literacy.
Can you share a bit about e-residency?
- This was done to attract more investments to Estonia.
- You can open a company digitally.
- It takes about 18 minutes to create a company.
- They have more than 50,000 e-residents from over 150 countries, and they have founded more than 6,000 companies.
- Serves as a boost to the economy.
Can Estonia serve as an example for other countries?
- Every citizen has a personal identifier.
- Every citizen has an ID card, which permits people to utilize government services.
- Start with digitizing one small service.
- People will start building trust in these systems.
- One of the most popular services to start with is tax declaration.
- When people start building trust in these kinds of systems, you can expand to other services.
- Infrastructure is key and insuring that people have the right mindset.
- Digitalization can serve as a cost-saving strategy for government, to funnel money towards development projects.
How do you get to a point where a country becomes digitally literate?
- Estonia has 1.5 million inhabitants.
- Mass trainings via IT buses and mandatory programs in schools.
- There are also master’s programs in e-governance and cybersecurity.
- Mindset is key.
- Digitalization does not have to come from wealth, but with digitalization you can bring efficiency.
- Estonia has made government administration completely digital and they have as a result brought transparency and efficiency.
- It does not suffice to have technology in place, it is also about a mindset, being willing to change and to use these systems.
Perfective: Previous attempts at E-governance in Haiti
Laplanche was responsible for introducing internet to universities
- There was resistance from university leaders.
- She took it upon herself as an act of resistance to teach students how to use the internet.
What were the lessons learned from the mission in Estonia?
- The Haitian government wanted to adopt e-ID cards to identify citizens.
- Digitalize land tenure to know who owns what parcel of land.
- Establish a legal framework for e-governance.
What are some of the roadblocks to digitalization in Haiti?
- It took Estonia less than 20 years.
- In 2009, the government began the conversation around e-governance in Haiti.
- It has been 10 years since we have launched this initiative.
- There has been some progress made, but not a concerted effort.
How do you explain the fact that Estonia has surged so far ahead in the past 10 years?
- Mindset of the government.
- We had Voila, Ayitel, and Digicel in 2009, key players in how we democratize access to data services in Haiti. This was the opportune time to launch this initiative.
- The Haitian government lacked the proper mindset. It is not there to serve its citizens.
If you look at Cote d’Ivoire’s educational profile, it is similar to Haiti, yet they have been highly innovative
- They had political will.
- The only thing we are missing in Haiti is political will.
- We have seen Rwanda do this.
- We have seen Estonia leapfrog into the future.
- Change is possible within the next 4 or 5 years.
Is there no way around the problem of political will?
- Education, education, education.
- In Rwanda, they started teaching kids digital literacy in grade school and now they have adults who are fully digitally literate.
- The government has to acknowledge what needs to happen and let it happen.
- We need to choose the proper leaders that have the right mindset.
- A more educated populace will be able to choose better leaders. If we have a strong electoral system, people will not accept money for votes.
- Candidates who have the right mindset sometimes don’t have as much visibility.
- The investments we make today, we will reap the benefits tomorrow.
- What it comes down to is political will and leadership. Education is also key, from grade school students to grandparents.