BASSETERRE, St Kitts – Digital technology holds the promise of prosperity for the Caribbean if the right conditions exist for it to be used to address the region’s most pressing development challenges, says, president of the Caribbean Development Bank, Dr Warren Smith.
He made this point while laying out his vision for the region’s digital transformation delivered the 34 annual Adlith Brown Memorial Lecture, hosted by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) in St Kitts and Nevis on November 19.
The lecture entitled Harnessing Digital Transformation to Boost Socio-Economic Development in the Caribbean was held as part of the 51 annual monetary studies conference of the Caribbean Economic Research Team.
“Our region must … take a proactive stance and accelerate the implementation of strategies which can position us to benefit from the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution,” urged the CDB head.
The bank president encouraged regional governments to lead by example and foster “agility, innovation and value creation” by employing digital technology to improve the delivery of public services. He pointed to the example of Estonia’s e-government platform, which allows citizens to access 99 percent of government services online and the savings in productivity which that country has reaped from its initiative.
“Speed and flexibility must become defining characteristics of public service delivery,” stated Dr Smith; and urged policymakers to create an enabling environment for the growth of the digital sector by putting policy and regulation in place to protect consumers and encourage investment and competition.
“The regulatory framework must also protect consumers and investors; encourage healthy competition, and guard against data piracy and other cyber-security risks,” he noted, adding: “Policymakers, with the support of their development partners, must create a business environment that promotes start-up and entrepreneurial cultures; harmonisation of legal frameworks and standards; broadening of internet access, and the emergence of an affordable financial and e-payment infrastructure.”
Dr Smith issued a call to those in the region’s Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSME) sector to play a greater role in digital innovation, noting that MSMEs account for over 50 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the region.
“If we can forge a marriage between our MSMEs and technology to create a new class of digital entrepreneurs, we can vastly expand the potential of this group to lower transaction costs; breakthrough geographic barriers; and expand access to new markets and consumers,” the CDB president said.