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ICT for development in the Pacific islands

By Bart Hogeveen

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an invisible driver of socio-economic change have long captured the imagination of politicians, policymakers and aid professionals alike. 

Since the first fibre-optic submarine cable connected Fiji 20 years ago, many reports and studies have been written about the potential that the introduction of ICTs in the South Pacific would bring for reaching targets of poverty reduction and economic growth. 

The internet, mobile devices and e-commerce have already penetrated the Pacific, configured to the political, economic and sociocultural context of the various island nations. 

This report takes a step back and zooms in on one aspect of that digital revolution: e-government. 

E-Government is defined as a set of capabilities and activities that involves the use of ICTs by government to improve intragovernmental processes and to connect with citizens, businesses and industry. 

Fiji was the first island to get linked up to the global network of submarine communications cables in 2000. In 2020, all major islands in the region are connected through one or more domestic and international fibre-optic cables. The region is connected. 

This report finds that the potential of ICTs to enable stronger governance, effective public service delivery and better government services is there. In all countries that are part of this study, critical foundational infrastructure is in place: 

  • Government broadband networks that connect departments, schools and hospitals have been established.
  • Central government data centres have been built, public registries are being digitised, and the introduction of national (digital) identities is currently being considered.
  • All Pacific island states have introduced relevant strategy and policy documents and have reviewed, or are currently reviewing, legislation related to data-sharing, cybersecurity and universal access.
  • All islands have an online presence that is steadily professionalising. Government (information) services are increasingly provided online, along with tourism information, fisheries data, geological data and meteorological forecasts. 

But there’s still a lot to be unlocked. 

Increased internet connectivity, the availability of mobile devices and online services and access to information are creating a greater demand from users to their governments. International donors similarly focus on the delivery of ‘digital aid’, using ICTs to provide international assistance more efficiently and effectively. 

This report asks the following questions: 

  • What capabilities have been established and are in place?
  • What are the current policy issues?
  • What can the international (donor) community do to enhance its support for the digitisation process of the Pacific island governments? 

The report reaches five main conclusions for the implementation of e-government and digital government initiatives, and it concludes with four recommendations for future programming of international support in the area of ICTs and e-government.