The solution to the growing problem of Caymanians needing to prove their status is most likely to be found through the use of digital technology, Premier Alden McLaughlin told an industry conference in Cayman on Thursday. Speaking at the Cayman Islands Digital Economy Conference (CYDEC), held at the Kimpton Seafire, McLaughlin said the ability to identify who is Caymanian has become ever more important to gain access to voting and employment opportunities.
“Having to prove that you are Caymanian can be onerous, and having to do it over and over when changing jobs for instance can be annoying to say the least,” the premier said. “So it is important that we find some way to solve this issue and it is thought that by using a digital identification, where ones status as a Caymanian is proven for once and all and linked to your digital ID, is likely the best solution to this problem. And potentially this ID will also serve as your voter ID, driver’s licence as well as identity card.”
McLaughlin said the government had made some important progress in delivering public services online, notably in the business sector, with company registrations, land registry and work permits, along with areas that most have welcomed, like online driving licences and motor vehicle registration, which would otherwise involve long queues and often a return visit.
Today some 36% of police clearances are done online, he stated, but there is much more to be done.
“But certainly the last administration that I lead, as well as the current administration, is taking e-Government seriously and we intend to make a lot of progress over the next three years to move our e-Government initiatives forward and ensure that Government is doing its part for Cayman’s digital economy,” McLaughlin said.
Turning to the financial industry and fintech sector in Cayman, the premier said he was very excited about Cayman’s prospects to become a major player in this fourth industrial revolution. Leveraging on the conditions that have made the Cayman Islands such a successful jurisdiction for financial services, McLaughlin said the same things make us attractive to the blockchain industry.
These include Cayman’s ability to cater to a diverse market, as it does with funds, insurance and trusts, all supported by the industry’s world class service providers, strong copyright and IP protection, of course in a tax neutral jurisdiction.
“Blockchain related companies have already set up shop at Cayman Tech City, a part of Cayman Enterprise City, and I am told there are more in the offing. We are embracing the opportunity for innovation,” he said
While Cayman is indeed making progress in online delivery of government services, the question remains how far away Cayman is away from a full digital ID system for the population, compared to progressive digital countries like Estonia, represented at CYDEC by Dr Arvo Ott of the nation’s e-government Foundation, which can deliver a digital ID to an individual in just one day.
Ian Tibbetts, Director of e-Government at the Cayman Islands Government, however, indicated that the timeline might be not be that far away.
The key issue of interoperability will be in place by July, Tibbetts said, which is where a system is in place for the different parts of government IT to talk to each other, so that when an individual shows up at a government department, the system is able to check what it needs to.
In terms of solutions to get the base data for a digital ID system, procurement is currently ongoing and that is expected to be in place by the first half of next year. At that point, e-government services for individuals can be identified and employed. As for full rollout of a system of digital IDs to the population, that could be done in up to three years, he said.
Right now, the areas the department is most closely focused on are identity and citizenship, trade and business licensing and property transactions.
“In terms of e-voting, the technology will be ready in six months but do we really want it as a community?” Tibbetts asked. “That is a discussion we need to have. E-voting systems require earned trust. You need to have the technology but also to be able to trust that technology. You can’t just transplant and deploy an e-voting system in a matter of months.”
It was further noted that the process of digitising public services would have an impact on employment in Cayman, particularly in the civil service for the individuals at the front line delivering these services.
Chris Bailey, of PwC, added that in addition to thinking about retraining and what these workers will be doing in three years, we also need to address a potential skills shortage in technology and to train our young people for the jobs that will need to be done in the future, and we don’t know yet what some of those will be.