THE ANNOUNCEMENT of a new online portal designed to streamline applications for construction permits is a useful if overdue attempt to address chronic failures in TT’s bureaucracy that stifle business development. Last week’s event, hosted by the Ministry of Planning and Development in partnership with the Ministry of Trade, was billed as a launch, but that’s a bit premature.
The project, under development by Singapore’s CrimsonLogic, is only half-done and won’t come online until February 2019. Meeting that deadline will depend on the active participation of 25 state agencies involved in the process of issuing construction permits in this country to ensure that the deadline is met. The existing process, according to a press release from the Planning Ministry, is paper-based and requires 16 different touch points that take an average of 253 days to complete. The reality is that construction approval is more realistically counted in years, not days, and any project designed to deliver a meaningful response within 60 days would be a significant advance on a clearly unproductive status quo.
The Ministry of Planning hopes to make a big leap forward with this effort to bring a stagnant and sluggish bureaucracy into the 21st century. But a jump from TT’s middling position of 102 in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index to a competitive 50 seems unrealistically hopeful and presumes that market-leading participants in the global economy are standing still while this country works to catch up.
This project will also cut directly into a daunting tangle of ancient paperwork and arcane filing procedures that govern the operations at the Town and Country Planning Division, the core party at play in the project. The next phase of the digital transformation project at the Planning Division will create an automated, paperless information repository of the data currently trapped in government-issue file cabinets. At the event, Planning Minister Camille Robinson-Regis said that this automated system would have “both philosophical and practical underpinnings.”
She is correct.
As a first step, the Planning Ministry will digitise legacy data from 2002 to 2017 before moving to tackle 50 years of legacy data, which will enable analysis and understanding of the history of this country’s mapping, city planning and urban design since independence. The challenges facing this project are considerable. The morass that is information access in the Public Service has been enabled for decades by a lack of leadership and will to make critical data more openly accessible, which fuels both a poor understanding of the nation’s development and an ignorance of the facts of governance, which fuels corruption. Inertia enabled that situation; effective and sustained action will be required to reverse it.