THE potential for big data to transform government is vast and is something that is being actively pursued, according to Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
Speaking virtually at the United Nations Trinidad and Tobago Big Data Forum on Wednesday, Imbert said big data can also be useful in providing real-time information such as tax collection and issuing official documents.
“With real-time data at their disposal, Government agencies can make more informed decisions, improve their services and take appropriate action quickly. Big data also has the potential to either improve the operations of a government or dictate a political outcome at the polls.”
Imbert outlined that he utilises big data to prepare the yearly budget.
“I rely on a lot of data to guide us as we project revenue for the coming year. In particular, big data is the foundation for estimating oil and gas prices and production, which are essential elements of our budget process.”
He noted that the Ministry of Digital Transformation is focused on implementing its digital transformation programme, which commences in fiscal 2022 and the Ministry of Education will also embark on a digital transformation programme to facilitate digital fluency at all levels in the education system and among all stakeholders.
“The Ministry of Planning and Development is also transforming the Central Statical Office (CSO). This will allow for accurate and up-to-date information from one central source. Data is a valuable tool for planning and allocation of resources. The adoption of big-data technologies will thus allow for the real-time publication of economic and financial data,” he said.
However, Imbert warned big data has some disadvantages, as in 2016 British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was found to have misused individual electronic data for the purposes of interfering with the electoral process of various countries.
He said that it is paramount that any big-data ecosystem also includes measures to prevent abuse.
“Users’ rights will remain at the forefront of any policy governing big data. The Government will therefore engage in legislative review to ensure instances of potential for abuse,” Imbert noted.
The minister noted that an aggressive agenda has been set to ensure that this country does not get left behind but that it is positioned to lead the region in technology.
“I would like to assure the public that the government is committed to ensuring that all of these projects will come to fruition.”
He noted that Trinidad and Tobago has the capacity to harness all the potential of big data, due to its modern telecommunications infrastructure, state-of-the-art Tier 3 data centres, 100 per cent mobile-cellular network, mobile penetration of 142 per cent, internet penetration of 77 per cent a and a highly qualified talent pool to propel data analytics
Additionally, Imbert said the Government recently agreed to subscribe fully to the International Monetary Fund’s Enhanced General Data Dissemination System, which supports improved data transparency, encourages statistical development, and, very importantly, helps create synergies between data dissemination and policymaking.
Imbert told the virtual meeting during the question and answer segment that Government is hoping to achieve most of its objectives in digital transformation by 2022. Those objectives include electronic national identity for citizens, along with cashless transactions throughout most of the public service.
Also he said training and access to funding will be provided.
“One of the most important things is access to proper and modern technology. We have found that quite a few people in the system are not tech savvy and they now occupy senior positions within the public service, so there’s a lot of training that is going to be required,” Imbert stressed.