THE hot mess otherwise known as the St. Jude Hospital Reconstruction Project (SJHRP), triggered by a tragic fire on September 9, 2009, shows little sign of cooling down. Blame has surfaced and been publicly exchanged, tinged with political colours that remind us of the destructive flames: raging mixtures of red, yellow and other colours.
During a press conference held this week, the Minister for Economic Development indicated that the SJHRP had been running on “two private email accounts” and some related documentation was not available and forthcoming. That shocking comment sparked an interest in fully reading the contents of the widely-available Technical Audit on the SJHRP, which has itself been hotly-debated, and added fuel to the controversy.
It was no easy task to digest and assimilate the contents of a report exceeding 300 pages, but the sacrifice of time, energy and mental processing power was not in vain. The perspective emerging from that exhausting trawl through the Technical Audit? It was enlightening and, apparently, necessary to shed some light and provide some insight into the shadowy processes that otherwise surround and shield the ‘normal’ operations of public projects. For now, the focus will remain on the ICT-related aspects that the Minister’s comments highlighted.
While it sounds scandalous that personal email accounts were used to drive such a large and long-lived project, there are definite benefits to be derived from the judicious and timely use of electronic mail, such as:
* Information can be processed in a timely manner;
* With mobile devices, information is available on the go;
* Bureaucracy can be reduced to maintain the pace of output.
Making decisions on the move typifies the essence of modern working, which business-people take for granted, so parts of the government were already functioning in a business-like manner — minus the usual accountability and information governance framework — assuming that the Minister and the Technical Audit are to be believed.
It is heartwarming to realize that under tense and emergency conditions (like SJHRP) the government may function in eGovernment mode: in a lean, nimble and time-sensitive manner. That willingness and capacity to work speedily, bypassing assumed hindrances and delays, should equally be available for the benefit of the average citizen applying for a passport, processing land documents, or otherwise interacting with the State.
Unfortunately, we still need to address some major issues, such as: the correct and consistent use of ICT within the government, harnessing the speed of ICT to benefit the average citizen, and avoiding the mismatch of modern high-speed communications and disturbingly slow project delivery.
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About the Author: Dr.Lyndell St. Ville is an ICT Consultant based in Saint Lucia, offering expertise in data management, systems design, and continuity planning.