15 MAY 2002

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Developing a first class information society

Local Councils and Justice Minister Dr Austin Gatt addresses an e-commerce seminar organised by the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. Dr Gatt emphasises on the e-government programme and transforming Malta nation into a technology-friendly nation

It is an honour to be invited to open this seminar, organised by one of the most respected institutes in the information technology sector in Malta. A seminar, which invariably treats the future of our national economy and the key to the door of the new economy village that last year has globally generated over half-a-trillion dollars of revenue.

In my short address today, I do not intend to indulge in technical appraisals of e-business models or prescribe what our entrepreneurs should do to jump on the e-band wagon. Instead, I will be providing an overview of the strategic electronic policy that the Government is aggressively pursuing through my Ministry and also to outline the direction and policy lines that Government has adopted in its mission to make Malta a relevant dot in the dot com world.

As you may be aware, Government is handling electronic policy on two parallel planes – the attainment of a first class information society and the implementation of the e-Government programme.

Transforming a country that up to, merely, 15 years ago was a technology-hostile nation into a first class information society is no piece of cake. However, Government did not waste its limited sands of time in crying over spilt milk. Conversely, it recognised that the clear benefits and limitless opportunities that can be derived from such an attainment, are large enough to merit its undivided attention.

Synonymous to this importance, last year, Government established the eMalta Commission and tasked it to drive the identification, promotion and coordination of the initiatives required for the attainment of an information society and economy in Malta.

In its encompassing mission, the Commission has determined a strategic plan based on six strategic thrusts and has also devised a set of clear objectives, which it aims to attain by 2003. In line with my belief that policy is useless without practice and tangible results, the Commission complemented this plan with a clear set of targets backed by a string of sound programmes and initiatives that will contribute to the overall attainment of its objectives.

As you surely know, my Ministry is also responsible for the implementation of the e-Government programme in Malta – an exciting advent that will lend us the opportunity to factually demonstrate to the Maltese citizens, the tangible benefits that the information and communications technologies can offer to improve their quality of life and the administration of their businesses.

Strategically, we are addressing this initiative on a number of inter-linked parallel implementation streams. Primarily, Government is actively pursuing to identify an international ICT player to enter into a long-term strategic partnership agreement for the design, development, implementation and potential operation of a world-class seamless e-Government model.

Following its international request for proposals in March 2001, Government received 58 submissions from 44 international and 14 local ICT-players. Following an in-depth detailed technical evaluation, Government has identified a consortium with which it will start the relevant bi-lateral technical evaluation, which should pave the road for the negotiation stage.

Acknowledging the fact that the potential strategic partnership will be a long-term arrangement which will span for a minimum of seven years, Government intends to leverage on the huge investment it has made in the last 10 years to bring the benefits of e-Government to the citizens as early as this year. In fact a substantial number of electronic transaction-based services such as the renewal of a driving license, the submission and payment of an income tax return and the application for an examination, will be placed on line by end 2002. This will definitely serve as an invaluable and crucial channel that will mobilise the citizens’ expectations and the public perceptions of e-Government.

Linked to this is the implementation of the Government portal, which will be launched on the 17th May and shall serve as the principal point of entry to all Government information and services. The portal will also re-dimension the way the public perceives Government – from a silo-based structure to a service-cluster approach that cuts across the organisational boundaries which traditionally subsist in the public sector.

Complementary to this, Government has established an essential shared component which will enable it to receive payments in a secure electronic form over the Internet – the e-Government payment gateway. Government is also embarking on the implementation of a massive registration and authentication mechanism, which builds on the provisions of the existing eCommerce legislation and will provide an accessible and secure digital signature mechanism for citizens to be able identify themselves with Government when transacting with it on-line.

Another stream, which I would like to float some thoughts about today is the exciting development of the m-Government initiative, whereby Government is working with the two mobile telephony companies to be in a position to offer a string of electronic public services via mobile technology.

The exponential growth in communications over the past few years has created an explosion in technology, particularly mobile technology. Looking back, it has all happened in the blink of an eye. Today we use handsets to write text messages and access the Internet. Very soon we could be using mobile phones as credit cards.

The large mobile phone manufacturers and mobile telecoms operators are currently investigating ways in which customers can pay for goods and services online. Aware that, despite a general increase, people are still wary of paying via a credit card on the web, these companies see the mobile phone as an obvious financial medium.

Web-based companies are constantly searching for new channels to convince their clients to effect online payments. Amazon has only made its first profits last year! Irrespective of the investment put in the web companies, if a website cannot induce its audience into paying online, there will never be any return on investment.

Approximately two of every three Maltese citizens own a mobile phone. This figure is even much higher amongst the Internet population. I strongly believe that this phenomenon should be tapped to provide payment for goods and services on the web and off it. Although, the investment lies in the hands of the private telecoms sector, Government will be a strong promoter of this channel both through the delivery of m-Government services and by providing its total support to the development of m-commerce in Malta.

It is relevant to note that we are not adopting a lame duck approach, walking in a technological oblivion of stand-alone sites. We state up-front, that we don’t know everything and that we want to listen to all the relevant stakeholders in this field. This is the rationale behind our wide-open consultation policy. We are, and certainly committed to remain, faithful to this sound approach and the effective moulding of the implementation of electronic policy.

I would like to close my address by strongly encouraging you to be very protective in conserving the two fundamental pillars of your mission statement:

1. Further the cause of professionalism in the information systems industry; and

2. Increase the awareness of the advances, implications and potential within the Maltese information systems industry.

In all two, you will find this Government’s and my outright personal support.

 



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Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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