…affecting business-friendly climate, public servicesOne of the key drivers of Government building its institutional capacity and designing effective policies is data collection. Information and communication technology (ICT) plays an integral role in data collection.According to the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB’s) Country Strategy Report on Guyana for the period 2017 to 2021, Guyana has been lagging in the area of data collection. And because of this, everything is affected — from the service Government entities provide to the public, to Government’s ability toMinister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughesimplement effective policies.“The limited use of ICT not only impedes the development of a robust data gathering/dissemination mechanism, (which is) necessary for evidence-based decision making, but also affects the Government’s front-office functions directed at businesses and citizens, including the facilitation of (a) business climate and procedural services for citizens.“This is reflected in Guyana’s low position in the e-Government Survey published by the United Nations, where it ranks 126th out of 193 countries, with a score of 0.37 out of 1, well below the regional and sub-regional averages,” the report notes.According to the report, the ability to design policy is further constrained by Government’s limited collection and use of data. The bank acknowledged that while Guyana’s overall statistical capacity-building has improved over the years, it is still behind its Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) counterparts.One such index is the World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Indicator, on which the IDB noted that Guyana underperforms in its overall score on statistical capacity at 57.8. This is compared to an LAC average of 78.2 in 2016.“This is further substantiated by the results of the application of the Tool for Assessing Statistical Capacity (TASC) that took place in May 2017. This self-assessment tool demonstrated that two of the weakest areas of statistical capacities in Guyana are institutional capacity of the national statistical system and the use of administrative records, adversely affecting effective evidence-based policy-making.”“The last household survey conducted to gauge poverty levels is more than a decade old. A recent assessment conducted by the IDB highlighted the need for staff training to build statistical capacity; the provision of technical assistance in the areas of sampling, data analysis, dissemination, and mapping; modernisation of technology for data collection and monitoring of field operations; and alignment of the statistical products that are available in the country (surveys, censuses, and administrative records) with priority data needs,” the report stated.The budgetIn total, the sum of $4.6 billion was passed in the National Assembly for the Public Telecommunications Ministry. This includes $2.5 billion in capital expenditure and $2.1billion in current expenditure; both increases.In 2017, capital expenditure was $359.2 million, while current expenditure was $1.8 billion. Employment costs dropped, however, with $97.1million being set aside. Of that lot, $67.1million was set aside just to pay contract employees.On examining the estimates, concerns were raised by the parliamentary Opposition about the potential for certain areas in the hinterland to be underserved. Opposition Parliamentarian Irfaan Ali took care to urge Public Telecommunications (PTM) Minister Cathy Hughes to visit a number of areas featuring underlying infrastructure, including Aishalton in Region Nine.Because it dealt with developing human capacity, the parliamentarians spent a substantial time on Programme 334, dubbed ‘industry innovations’. In defending the increased sums, Hughes related that various sums of money are to be used for scholarships, a venture capital fund, and provisions for animation development.While the PTM has seen an overall increase, just the sum of $10 million was provided for training, inclusive of scholarships, under line item 6302. In response to questions from the Opposition regarding the line item, the Minister explained that ICT training would take place on four levels throughout the regions.“The basic training levels are going to be located in regions Two, Three, Four, Six, Eight and Nine. That basic tier includes introduction to computers, internet and the web, and Microsoft Office. That will benefit community youths,” she explained.“The next level is a mid-tier level, and that focus is on Web design. That includes programmes like Photoshop, Web design, Illustrated design, planning and analysis. The (target audience) are community youths.“The next tier is a focus on Web development. We are looking at courses for Java Script, CSS. And the top tier is mobile development. We will target groups looking at developing mobile apps,” the Minister explained.