Living in IT hell in Trinidad and Tobago


In this column, I recently wrote about the pointlessness of comparing Bajans and Trinis.

But the experience of our different, new processes related to safe travel and tourism demands to be shared. It shows that we need not cling to the outdated modus operandi we seem incapable of consigning to the dustbin of redundancy.

To enter TT, everyone requires a digital TTravel Pass, which can be printed or saved to a mobile electronic device. Without it, you cannot board an aircraft.

The form is long, very long. It requires you to upload your negative PCR test, your international WHO vaccination certificate and the information page of your passport. In addition, it asks for all sorts of information that could be gathered at another time, such as in which area you live.

Once all of this data is processed a barcode is downloaded, which must be presented at the airline check-in desk.

Without that you are in trouble, which is what happened to a friend when she tried to check in recently.

It took me just over an hour the night before my return trip to Trinidad last month to complete the exercise, because the online interface is inadequate, the form torturous, and the ministry’s website upload and download speeds too slow to cope with the demand.

In addition, you need a large smartphone because of the design of the digital form.

Fortunately, I had an iPad to resort to after failure to complete the process on my small smartphone and I eventually received my barcode.

Frustratingly, CAL counter staff insisted on seeing the paper versions of all the uploaded forms. Whatever for? I asked, but they did not know why. It was as if they did not trust the barcode and the matching information on their screens.

My friend reports having also completed the form the night before her return trip home. but, unfortunately, due to the slowness of the website, she had gone to bed before getting the barcode.

Next day, it took her 56 fraught minutes at the airport to repeat the process, and with just five minutes before the flight closed, the website coughed up the precious barcode and she could check in.

CAL threatened that she would have to stay back at her own expense and purchase a new ticket, too, if the process was incomplete, even though she had all the documents in paper form.

In contrast, to enter Barbados a much simpler, equivalent form can be processed in approximately five minutes and seems to have a duplicate purpose as a digital version of the two-sided, standard printed entry form all Caricom countries demand, but which the Barbadians have abandoned, even though CAL still dispenses the forms and unreconstructed TT still uses them. The Barbados Immigration officers shooed away the old-fashioned document arriving passengers offered as they ushered almost everyone towards machines for automated processing.

It is not to say that our public and private sectors cannot manage digital technology successfully, but the difference in efficiency is staggering.

It took several months of repeatedly trying before securing an online appointment to renew my six-months-expired driver’s permit.

But at least the Ministry of Works and Transport website interface is friendly, simple and efficient. The NIB process for online payments, a year ago when I last ventured onto it, would challenge any scholarship winner.

The TSTT/bmobile online payment system is beyond useless if you have to pay more than one account at the same time. After nearly two years of erroneous credits while other accounts remained unpaid, I figured out that their system cannot handle more than a single transaction at a time.

On the other hand, T&TEC offers a variety of quick automated payment methods, and WASA is very on the ball when it comes to collecting my direct-debit payments quarterly, even if there is no water in the mains, the water is the colour of mud when there is, and the filter is full of brown slush.

The banking sector, which has some very happy shareholders, is among the worst operators of digital technology. There is a litany of failures, exacerbated by the pandemic – branch and credit-card customer services are understaffed, interbank payments frequently disappear without explanation, inter-account payments (at my bank at least) now happen a day later, etc, etc. Our banks are pushing customers towards online banking, but they are as under prepared as we are.

My bank – Republic– recently introduced the worst of all new online banking systems, and, like the TT Travel Pass, it demands too much information. Now, to set up a new payee, you must have the person’s ID information, which many people refuse to give, so we have to revert to cheques. Progress!

Why do we love cumbersome and counterproductive data collection? Digitalisation and automation are meant to be advantageous, but we have not caught up with the rest of the world in understanding their true purpose or mastering them.

While we don’t, Trinis endure a living IT hell.


"Living in IT hell in Trinidad and Tobago"

More in this section