Posted: Wednesday, May 27, 2020. 4:41 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By John Saldivar MSc (Econ): In previous articles, the justification for, and some components of, Belize’s economic recovery plan was presented. The plan for agriculture, an infrastructure and construction boom, and industry expansion were shared. Part V of the economic recovery plan focuses on DIGITIZATION.
We need to make a quantum leap forward into the digital age. Complete internet penetration is a must along with rates that encourage the establishment of digital workplaces. Electricity expansion must progress at a heightened rate to enable the digital, agricultural and industrial expansion to spread across the country without hindrance. We must continue to explore non-renewable sources of energy to reduce the cost of power and attract more investments in areas that utilize substantial amounts of power.
We must embrace Business Process Outsourcing companies in a big way. The potential for job creation in an industry which Belizeans seem to enjoy working in is untapped. We must set up a team under the EMC to look for and attract to Belize more data processing businesses such as call centers, and data entry services for inputting of records. The aim is to encourage greater entrepreneurship in this area that requires minimal investment in physical plant and has proven itself resilient to the pandemic.
Land should be identified across the country for the construction of technology zones where either private or public sector funds can be used to construct office spaces for rent to BPOs. The telecommunications companies need to offer packages that will enable Belize to be marketed as a BPO destination. Such packages along with government incentives should also encourage companies to establish Work from Home opportunities.
As we move our country and people into the digital age, we must encourage and facilitate Mobile Banking Digital Wallet to enable financial services to reach to all including those who are in rural areas and those who have not enjoyed traditional banking services. This will allow goods and service to be bought and sold using cell phones thereby reducing travel costs especially for distant rural communities.
Dr. Michael Witter, renowned Caribbean economist recently wrote “Digitization should support employment and income generation for those workers whose activities permit it; and facilitate learning for students at all levels. For others, whose jobs are hands-on, digitization should facilitate flows of relevant information and improve access and participation in input and output markets.”
Digitizing Public Services and Education
For Belize to move forward out of this crisis not only the private sector needs to be ready, but the public sector needs to be retrained and reconfigured to provide services digitally. We must aggressively continue e-portal expansion to automate government services including setting up a call center for service delivery as well as automated collection centers. This will achieve greater efficiencies in all branches of government lessening operating expenses while increasing the speed and efficiency of service delivery to the public. The greater efficiency may eventually result in a permanent reduction in the required hours of work for public officers perhaps initially to six hours per day and eventually to a four-day work week using flex-time. The reduced working hours and increased work from home alternatives have already been proven entirely possible during this pandemic.
Even in the health sector we can embrace telemedicine as a means for doctors to stay in touch with patients and require less clinic time even after they have left the hospital or the country for that matter as we embrace medical tourism. The agriculture sector can also benefit from creating digitized videos accessible online to help our local farmers and even people with home gardens on how to plant, what to plant, when to plant.
The new normal and the structural changes that will inevitably take place in the economy will require a new approach to education. What we teach our children must be relevant to the changing times. We must revise our teaching curriculum at all levels to fill the needs of the new economy and society. We must complete the process of technological transformation of education. Digital delivery of education material must be fully embraced with teachers requiring retraining to facilitate this new mode. With digital delivery enhanced, the option of home schooling even for a few hours out of the week has to be given new consideration. Lesson planning can also now be digitized and banked thereby requiring less preparation time and cost for teachers. As with the public service, we can now explore a shorter workday and week for teachers. Teachers and other education actors must also be given their rightful place among the public policy decision makers. A direct seat on the Economic Mobilization Council is a must as teachers partner in leading the educational change required for the new economy.
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