Countries in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) face a number of common challenges in a context of increasing global competitiveness. They have high fiscal imbalances and debt ratios while being exposed to external shocks – financial and natural - as small, developing, island states. Similar to small states in other regions, OECS countries focus on new sources of growth to reduce vulnerability and embrace an approach that emphasizes improved governance, public sector modernization and enhanced regional integration. The countries seek to reinvigorate and sustain growth, reduce high unemployment, lower the poverty rate, restore fiscal and debt sustainability, diversify their economies and secure a sustainable external position. Public sector modernization was identified as key to improving efficiency and competitiveness in the region, placing an emphasis on using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to improve internal efficiency, delivery of public services, coordination among agencies and transparency and accountability of the public sector, with the objective of the free flow of persons and goods as part of a regionally integrated Economic Union.
The Electronic Government Regional Integration Project (EGRIP) consisted of two projects. The first, financed by IDA credits, included three OECS countries: Dominica, Grenada and St. Lucia. The second was financed by an IDA credit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. EGRIP was conceived as a horizontal and a vertical Adaptable Program Loan (APL). On the horizontal axis, it started with three of the countries, followed by St. Vincent. On the vertical or temporary axis, the program was structured in two phases. At the time of preparation, EGRIP was a highly innovative project, both as a pioneering e-Government project at the Bank, and as the first regional e-Government lending project.
The following is a sampling of the achievements of the project:
In promoting the quality of public services,
- Regionally harmonized legislation related to e-Government was developed and presented to the OECS authority - the body of Prime Ministers and Chief Ministers for the OECS member countries - in January 2012.
- Fourteen eGovernment applications were created or upgraded under the Project across the four countries.
- In Dominica, by Project closure in February 2014, the eID system was linked with the Electoral Office System to verify voters’ IDs, and the Inland Revenue Department System to verify tax ID and driver’s licenses. Dominica completed enrollment of public servants, statutory organizations and most schools, registering close to 4,000 persons, with enrollment of the general public to follow.
- In Grenada by project closure in February 2014, 800 civil servants had been registered for the eID system, with the general population to follow.
- In Saint Vincent, eID cards were rolled out to persons under 18 years of age, with 559 Vincentians registered and 551 cards issued by June 2016.
- In Saint Lucia, eID cards were purchased for the full population, with the roll out to be tackled by the new government elected in June 2016.
- In the eProurement process, transcription errors in the conversion of requisition orders to purchase orders have been reduced.
In promoting government efficiency,
- The average time to complete a VAT tax filing was reduced from one day to thirty minutes across the four countries;
- In Grenada, by project closure, Internal Revenue had collected some $200,000 in tax revenue from the online eTax filing system.
- In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 7,753 tax payers representing about 60% of the tax payer base submitted 23,325 tax filings by June 2016.
- The eProcurement system conducted 6 tenders for a total value of US$ 27 million. The aggregation of countries' pharmaceutical needs forecasts was reduced in time from 7 days to 2 days and the compilation of suppliers' bids was reduced in time from 7 days to 1 day. Both processes are now automated. The average amount of time to process a pharmaceutical procurement requisition order was reduced from 5 days to 20 minutes.
In promoting transparency, the contracts of 19 regionally pooled procurements of pharmaceuticals were published online.
Bank Group Contribution
IDA provided four credits totaling US$ 9.6 million to Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent, which were implemented via the regional agency of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) for the Electronic Regional Integration Project. These grants helped finance a regional electronic ID system, regional online tax filing system, and a regional eProcurement system for pharmaceuticals.
The project partnered with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), which supplemented the IDA credits with a US$ 2 million grant to support and extend selected activities to non-IDA countries Antigua & Barbuda and Saint Kitts & Nevis.
EGRIP was structured in a way to allow for a second phase of the Project.This was requested by the OECS Secretariat at Project closing. The Bank is currently not considering a follow up operation to this Project due to the competing priorities identified by the countries in the FY15-19 Regional Partnership Strategy process. The Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Program (CARCIP, active in Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines) will address these countries’ priorities and concerns regarding broadband capacity. However, this will not follow or scale up regional or national e-Government activities at this point, though the Bank’s support for purposes of sustainability would be useful.
Beneficiaries were surveyed in February of 2014. Focus groups allowed for the gathering of data on the quality, user satisfaction and functionality of the e-Government systems supported under the Project, aimed at comparing the systems prior and post Project interventions. To enable the focus groups to express their sincere opinions, all comments were anonymous. Comments from end-beneficiaries and users of the system include the following:
eTax Filing System
“Although I have not used the VAT to file online, I have used it to do my personal income tax and it was really fast and easy. Can’t wait to do the VAT.”
Regional eProcurement Systems for Pharmaceuticals
“What I really like about the system is that the bids are opened simultaneously and I can see where I stand in relation to other suppliers.”
“I really like the fact that I do not have to travel anymore.”
“I don’t even have a problem with the disqualification process because the system shows me why I was disqualified.”