E-commerce necessarily must be an important component of The Bahamas’ services sector going forward, and so the Government gives priority focus to the development of electronic commerce.

An internal e-commerce working group within the Ministry of Finance is refining a draft business plan for the government’s component of the transition to e-commerce and the eventual establishment of a government e-business office. Already, preliminary technical working drafts on three pieces of e-commerce legislation have been circulated for industry and sector comment. The drafts seek to reflect the issues raised during National Steering Committee meetings in 2000. These three drafts are:

(1) an Electronic Communications Act, which would provide amongst other things for the legal recognition of electronic transactions, electronic contracts, electronic signatures, etc, on the same footing as their paper based equivalents and the supervision of intermediaries and e-commerce service providers;

(2) a Computer Misuse Act, which would criminalize certain wrongful intervention involving computers, their systems and transmissions via computers such as hacking and

(3) a Data Protection (Privacy of Information) Act, designed to guarantee certain rights to individuals in respect of the use of personal information collected in relation to them, consistent with international standards on such protection.

The initiative to promote e-learning is well underway with the commencement of the computerization of the primary schools. Currently a pilot exercise is taking place to test an interactive instructional system which integrates the use of computers into the teaching process to reinforce instruction. Twenty-seven schools across The Bahamas, both within New Providence and the Family Islands have been chosen for the pilot, and seven of these schools are now interactive and are utilizing the Internet for resource purpose.

Discussions are also underway with the College of The Bahamas to develop programmes that will integrate into the existing curriculum, courses designed to meet the demands and skills requirements of the IT industry in the short, medium and long-term.

For 2001, objectives supporting the development of e-commerce are:

(1) The development of a government website, which in the first phase will focus on satisfying informational needs of the business community in particular. In this first phase also, it is proposed to make available copies of some government forms which may be downloaded for use.

(2) The on-line component of the Registrar General’s Office which would enable the incorporation of companies online is in its pilot phase. We are optimistic, that this service may be fully commissioned by the third quarter of this year.

Similar work is being undertaken to move the filing of customs declaration and the processing of business licences to the online environment.

The telecommunications infrastructure is critical to The Bahamas’ future prospects. The Government is in the final phase of the privatization exercise for the Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (Batelco). This involves the formal announcement of the intended sale and the invitation to interested parties to register such interest. It is now projected that a Strategic partner should be identified around the end of April.

Government is keen to ensure that any strategic partner will have both the technical expertise and experience as well as the financial resources to manage Batelco and develop it into a state of the art telecommunications company. The Telecommunications Sector Policy, which has been circulating in draft for some time, is expected to be published in final form by the end of this month. A fully wired, liberalized competitive environment for telecommunications is clearly in the best interest of the Bahamian economy generally and that is the direction The Bahamas has taken.

(Excerpted from an Address by Sir William Allen, M.P., Minister of Finance, to the Bahamas Business Outlook Conference)