Please permit us to respond to the fallacies proffered by Mr. Sasenarine Singh in his article titled “Increased Spending by Granger Administration Questionable” published on pg. 7 of Stabroek News on 19th February 2020. We welcome this opportunity to directly address the readership who may be misled into thinking that the National Data Management Authority (NDMA) is a secretive organization that spies on the citizens of Guyana as asserted by Mr. Singh. Contrary to the impression the author attempts to create, NDMA is neither a recent invention nor is it engaged in spying on citizens.
In fact, NDMA commenced its initial operations in 1981 through a joint programme between the Guyana Bauxite Mining Enterprise (GUYMINE) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It was later formally established by an act of Parliament assented to by then President L. F. S. Burnham on 18th May 1983 as the entity “responsible for data processing and information systems in the Public Sector.”
In its early days, NDMA recruited and trained Guyana’s first batch of computer and data scientists, constructed the first local purpose-built data centre at the University of Guyana, maintained government’s payroll and Ministry of Finance’s systems, processed statistical tables for the Bureau of Statistics, and developed a model for assessing the viability of mines in the extractive sector. The Authority was best known for processing the Common Entrance Examination (now National Grade Six Assessment) results and placement of candidates, which it has been doing since 1983.
It is worth mentioning Editor that even with this pioneering and groundbreaking early work, NDMA was left to languish severely underfunded by the previous Administration. In 2010 the then Administration disregarded NDMA’s prior work and constitutional mandate to superintend all of Government ICT, preferring to establish an inexperienced project team led by the former President’s son to build an eGovernment network using, in Mr. Singh’s words, a “foreign company (from a non-democratic nation in Asia).” That US$32M project was never put to use until the current Administration assumed office in 2015. We also wish to remind readers that it was that same handpicked project unit which wasted over US$5M attempting to lay fibre optic cable from Lethem to Georgetown. According to chartered accountants Ram and McRae, who conducted the forensic audit on the eGovernment project, “the project failed due to ineffective planning, management and inadequate oversight” (e-Government Project: Special investigation into financial operations and functioning, pg. 12, 18th December 2015).
In 2016 Cabinet, recognizing the irregular situation where the NDMA and the eGovernment Unit both existed to essentially execute the same programme, sought to correct the anomaly by approving the eGovernment Unit being brought under the aegis of the NDMA and its 1983 Act. In December 2018, the NDMA’s subvention of G$1,847,610,000 for 2019 was debated and passed unchallenged by the National Assembly. This we believe is a testament to the work and accomplishments of the NDMA which were well known and acknowledged by Parliamentarians and the nation at large. Editor, we would like to take this opportunity to inform your readership that from 2016 to date we have used the voted financial provisions to inter alia accomplish the following:
- Salvaged, operationalised and expanded the eGovernment Network which remained un-utilised and rapidly deteriorating up to 2015.
- Recruited and further trained over 150 employees inclusive of 70+ engineers and technicians.
- Opened branch offices in Regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10. With branches in Regions 8 and 9 expected to open in 2020.
- Provided overseas and local technical training to over 100 staff as well as internship opportunities for University students.
- Established the Centre for Excellence in Information Technology (CEIT) – a collaborative initiative with the Government of India to provide advanced ICT training and capacity building for IT professionals.
- Digitised over 300,000 public records and transactions, in the process providing employment opportunities for over 70 data entry professionals.
- Deployed eServices for education, citizenship and tourism sectors; and developed 200 eForms for initiating public service transactions online. These eForms are scheduled for launch in 2020.
- Established and continues to operate over 250 Community ICT Hubs and Public Internet Access Points (PIAPS) across all regions.
- Connected over 170 primary schools, 100 secondary schools, over 30 tertiary and training institutions, and over 150 government agencies over the national eGovernment network.
- Currently providing free Internet access to well over 50,000 users monthly in over 100 indigenous and remote communities countrywide. Please refer to the NDMA’s website (NDMA.gov.gy) for continuous updates.
- Connected 9 Student Dormitories and Hostels: Amerindian Student Residence (Liliendaal), Amerindian Hostel (Princes Street), Charity Secondary Dormitory, Aurora Secondary Dormitory, President’s College Dormitory, Guyana School of Agriculture Dormitory, Orealla Student Dormitory, Amerindian Residence (Mahaicony), Amerindian Dormitory (Mahaicony).
- Most recently commissioned a free Voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service for unserved hinterland communities, allowing them to contact government ministries and agencies, regional administration, health facilities, police, hinterland schools and dormitories and other communities.
- Currently supervising the execution of the US$37.6M National Broadband project which includes upgrading the existing LTE network and main Data Centre; constructing and equipping an additional backup Data Centre; developing human capacity to operate and maintain the network; equipping smart classrooms and deploying eLibraries for distance education & eLearning; deploying eHealth solutions to provide remote health care for hinterland regions; installing Safe City solutions to improve public security; and implementing virtual desktop infrastructure to provide greater security, better access and lower costs for government information systems.
Editor, this is not the first time the NDMA and our parent Ministry have responded to detractors in the media concerning this Administration’s governance of national cybersecurity. We previously advised the public that a number of ICT initiatives undertaken by the last Administration were brought under the umbrella of the NDMA to provide for better security of Government’s data and information systems. And again Editor, we must emphatically reiterate that there is no, in Mr. Singh’s words, “foreign company (from a non-democratic nation in Asia)” involved in our national cybersecurity programmes. Over the last few years, Government of Guyana has leveraged our international and regional partnerships (International Telecommunications Union (ITU), LACNIC, OAS-CICTE, IDB, Governments of India, Israel, and the United States) to strengthen Guyana’s Cybersecurity capabilities.
With respect to digital government and the provision of online services we have widely publicized our engagement with the Government of Estonia (through their eGovernance Academy (eGA), to develop a Digital Governance Roadmap for the Government of Guyana. Several eGA led workshops were held with public sector agencies and private sector companies in 2018 to craft this strategy. The resultant five-year national Roadmap details the critical building blocks necessary for the establishment of a digital government – one that provides citizens with 24/7 services over the Internet.
Having laid the foundations by building and expanding the national eGovernment network and developing the necessary human capacity, in 2020 NDMA will leverage these investments made over the past 5 years to deploy citizen-centred online services, that will make interactions with Government simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.
Indeed Editor, as evidenced above, Mr. Singh has gotten one thing right – the operations of the NDMA are vast! We provide services to the citizenry across Guyana from Mabaruma in the North to Masakenari in the South, from Siparuta in the East to Kaikan in the West, and many places in between; bridging the digital divide that existed between hinterland and coast and positively impacting and transforming the lives of residents in those communities. According to Humace Odit, Manager of the Affiance Community ICT Hub, “persons come here daily to use the devices with the Wi-Fi – schoolchildren are using the opportunity to do research, elders who are not computer literate are being taught to use the computers. This initiative has advanced the village of Affiance and we are proud of this project.” (Guyana Chronicle, “Essequibo ICT Hubs Transforming Lives”, 4th March 2018).
National Data Management Authority