Guam – “Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can significantly benefit Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs),” said Siaosi Sovaleni, Manager of the Pacific ICT Outreach (PICTO) Programme at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
“While the Programme is promoting awareness of the risks associated with ICT and the safety of users and the information they share, it also recognises the huge potential in the use of ICT to support national development,” he said.
“The SPC strategy is to strengthen the link between countries’ development priorities and the use of Information, Communication Technologies (ICT) to support and facilitate sustainable development.
[The use of ICT can enhance the learning experience for students of all ages in Pacific Island Countries and Territories.]
“As shown in developing nations in other parts of the world, ICT can transform service delivery by governments and commercial enterprises, thereby opening up and providing access to previously untapped areas of the economy, as well as extending services to disadvantaged groups, particularly rural communities.
“When you realise that the Pacific is approaching 50% mobile phone penetration, that’s 50% of the population that can be accessed through a mobile phone platform,” said Mr Sovaleni.
“There is the real possibility that the platform can be used to inform people about natural disasters or health warnings, for example. Mobile phones can also be used for data collection, whether in health, agriculture or fisheries, so there is a significant potential that can be realised through ICT.
“There are more people now with mobile phones than bank accounts. Through mobile phone technology, rural and island populations can have access to financial services such as mobile banking and money transfers.”
Mr Sovaleni said that the continued increase in the use of technology in the Pacific has an important potential to change people’s lives. For example, five countries now have submarine fibre optic cables and another three are planning to lay cables within the next two to three years. This translates into better and more affordable Internet access.
“It is a matter of actually identifying the challenges, and having policies in place to exploit the opportunities presented by new technologies, and to minimise the risks and threats.”
More and more Pacific countries have adopted the use of the Internet, often referred to as e-Government, to deliver efficient and effective government services. The benefits include the potential, for instance, of providing 24-hour -7 days a week services, to even the more rural and remote communities.
“Fiji, Vanuatu and PNG have substantial e-Government projects and Samoa and Tonga are discussing their e-Government plans with partners. But e-Government is a substantial investment. For example, the first phases of the Fiji and Vanuatu projects were both over USD$30 million.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) and SPC are formulating and ICT for Education framework’ to help Pacific countries’ education sectors with the use of ICT for service delivery, and to improve the students’ learning experience.
Education Ministers in the region had an opportunity review this framework, and see how they can effectively use ICT to provide enhanced educational services in a cost effective way at the recent Pacific Islands Forum Education Ministers’ meeting, in Vanuatu.
“It’s about using ICT as a cross cutting tool to help government sectors to address the lack of capacity, lack of resources, and the geographic challenges. With a planned and more coordinated response, ultimately, countries can make informed decisions in addressing these challenges,” concluded Mr Sovaleni.