Photo: US Coastguard. Hurricane Dorian wrecked the Bahamas, but Sand Dollars could make hurricanes more survivable, say Bahamian experts.

FREEPORT, Grand Bahama — Minister of State for Grand Bahama, Senator Kwasi Thompson got an opportunity to inform Latin America countries, as well as a number of Caribbean nations about the Bahamas’ strides thus far in the country’s digital transformation, as well as the plans to expand that transformation as time goes on.

Minister Thompson, who is also responsible for electronic communication and the government’s Digitization program spoke at the 14th annual meeting of Red GEALC Sixth Ministerial Meeting of Digital Government, which was hosted by Costa Rica and held virtually.

The virtual conference, brought together ICT Ministers from the Caribbean and Latin America.

During his presentation Minister Thompson pointed out that The Bahamas took on its digital journey with the overarching goal of delivering services and programs that would foster transparency, effectiveness, efficiency and cost reduction.

He noted that a focused approach – on what the user/customer says would make their experience better, and programs that would achieve this – is the key.

“So we focused on streamlining (1) to reduce or remove the movement of paper or documents between customer and government, and agency-to-agency (2) to reduce or remove the need for the public officer to review and approve where it adds no value,” said Minister Thompson.

“Our challenge was to get public officers to “un-think how things are done and to “rethink” a better way for themselves and their customers.

“Our Bahamas Electronic Cabinet Management Information System (BECMIS) is a good example of our “focused” approach. It is a six-month project with releases in six-week intervals. Users, from clerks in the Cabinet Office to my cabinet colleagues, are involved from the design to testing.

“We are successfully battling through the elimination of steps, the rethinking process flow, and redesigning documents. When completed, there will be end-to-end handling of information and proceedings electronically. We will see digital collaboration between agencies and collaboration between cabinet colleagues.”

The Minister noted that The Bahamas is excited about its Proof-of-Concept Interoperability Platform which is currently in beta test mode. This platform, he added, is allowing government services to share information from disparate data sources, securely.

“Due to built-in verifications and validations, the user provides little to no information for renewal services and in most instances, public officers will only have to review and approve requests or transactions that are an exception,” explained Minister Thompson.

“To reach this level of automation the IT agency worked closely with the service provider to streamline processes, engaging them from design to testing. The platform in its POC stage will allow for renewal of driver’s license, renewal of passport, a request for customer’s own birth certificate or marriage certificate.

“Also in pilot mode is the launch of the Sand Dollar, The Bahamas’ digital currency. The Central Bank in partnership with authorized Payment Service Providers reaches the banked and the unbanked. The government has also put forward the Digital Assets and Registered Exchanges Bill 2020 (DARE) aimed at establishing the framework for regulation of the issuance, sale and trade of digital assets in and from within The Bahamas.”

Minister Thompson said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, agencies have accelerated their digital programs, including the Food Assistance program, the Bahamas Feeding Network, virtual school and parks and public spaces are being equipped to provide internet access.

He added that through all of these ICT initiatives there is a strong realization of the need for growing capacity in various specialized fields, in application development and IT operations, but also in business analysis, change management, procurement, and public relations.

What is Project Sand Dollar?

Project Sand Dollar is the initiative embarked by Central Bank of The Bahamas to issue its own digital version of the Bahamian dollar as well as implement the appropriate digital payments system infrastructure to sufficiently underpin the operation of a digital currency ecosystem.

Hurricanes have been ravaging the Bahamas for centuries.

According to travel advice website TripSavvy, a hurricane passes close to the Bahamas every other year on average. In addition, a hurricane makes a direct landfall on the islands once every four years on average. Natural disasters can be a big-time hassle for tourists. What’s worse is that these storms often devastate the Bahamas’ ability to conduct trade and commerce.

On Sept. 1, 2019 the Grand Bahama Island and Abaco Islands were struck by one of the strongest hurricanes in history. Hurricane Dorian was a category five storm that packed sustained winds that reached 185 miles per hour. In addition to the strong gusts of wind, Hurricane Dorian summoned storm surges that formed water walls as high as 20 feet. According to Hubert Minnis, prime minister of the Bahamas, the storm system left a “generational devastation” on the islands.

Although Sand Dollar is a cryptocurrency like bitcoin or Ethereum, it offers unique characteristics.

According to officials, Sand Dollars will be introduced in the form of a digital wallet or e-wallet. Users will be able to access it through a smartphone application. The digital wallet will also offer security features that enable users to safely save payment details as well as passwords for various payment methods.

These functionalities allow users to complete transactions using near-field communications technology. Central Bank Governor John Rolle said Project Sand Dollar can potentially improve the resilience of the country when facing natural disasters.

The central bank governor has said that Project Sand Dollar would offer the following benefits:

  • enable wireless restoration of payments
  • allow electronic dissemination of aid
  • prevent issues associated with cash shipments and cash reliance
  • help in the timely recovery of banking and banking services