Cooperation on Sint Maarten
To further professionalize and expand the IT-department of the government on Sint Maarten. That is what the government of Sint Maarten has prioritized, to help achieve becoming a resilient and sustainable country.
In the picture from left to right: Tjandra Lake, Andrea Ortega-Oudhoff, Femi Badejo en Norbert Jansen
A team from ICTU is supporting the government of Sint Maarten in achieving this goal, by assisting in setting up an IT-department that can optimally support the digitalization process of government. A lot has been achieved in a year's time, in pleasant collaboration.
The project 'Revamping the IT-department' should be seen in the broader context of the digital transformation and other innovations that the government on Sint Maarten is working on. Emilia Connor-Thomas, Secretary-General of the Ministry of General Affairs of the government of Sint Maarten, says that the use of IT is very important to strengthen the governments’ institutions. By streamlining processes and reducing costs while becoming more efficient. The significance of fortifying the organization has been underscored, particularly in the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes in 2017. The delayed restoration of government services post-hurricane highlighted the urgency for improvements, states Connor-Thomas, who is also Head of the Public Service Centers and member of the Digital Leadership Team for the Digital Government Transformation project.
“As an organization, we want to improve our services and to be able to resume to normalcy in a seamless manner, post-disaster. This is crucial for our residents and the organization as well. By embracing digital transformation in both internal processes and service delivery, the organization aims to substantially improve efficiency and resilience.”
Sint Maarten is working on broad reforms in various programs. It hereby receives technical and financial assistance from various actors like the EU, the World Bank, the UNDP and the Dutch government (BZK). For the IT-transformation process, the World Bank and the Netherlands provide financial and technical assistance in achieving Sint Maarten’s goals.
The Dutch government provides their assistance by means of a mutual agreement. This agreement entails that technical and financial assistance is provided to an agreed range of reform areas, as stipulated in the so-called ‘Sint Maarten Country Reform Package’. Areas of concern are financial management, healthcare, education, economic development, public sector operations and the rule of law.
For the implementation of this National Package, a Temporary Work Organization (TWO) has been set up by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in the Netherlands. In Sint Maarten, the Secretaries-General (SG’s) manage the implementation of the projects through their respective ministries. Andrea Ortega-Oudhoff, Sr. Project manager National Development and Liaison Kingdom relations at the Ministry of General affairs, provides support to the SG’s. Ortega-Oudhoff coordinates the implementation process and functions as the first point of contact to the TWO: “It is about reforms in many different domains. Reforms that fit Sint Maarten’s Development Vision and support Sint Maarten in becoming sustainable and resilient. In Sint Maarten’s National Development Vision, financial control and the strengthening of Sint Maarten’s institutions have been determined as pre-conditions for sustainable development. The digitalization of government has therefore been one of the projects that has been prioritized to strengthen the public sector. In addition, there are also other IT-projects ongoing that assist in enhancing government operations. For example, the introduction of a new customs system, the management of financial and information flows, a database for statistics, education and healthcare information and the digitization of human resource information.”
For all these reforms and innovations, a well-functioning IT-department is a prerequisite. Connor-Thomas: "Not only do we need an IT-department that supports us well in our current work, but that can also be a strategic partner. Developments in technology are moving very fast. We would like to use these developments if they make our work and processes smarter. We would like the IT-department to be able to advise us on innovative technologies." The IT-department therefore has to be developed alongside the digitalization process. The Department requires an upgrade in equipment, knowledge through training, as well as additional staffing. Currently, the department provides support for all seven ministries of Sint Maarten, which covers a total of more than 1,250 users. The department currently has only ten staff members. Acting head of department Femi Badejo: "As a result, we were mainly reactive, while we would like to work proactively for the organization." Ortega-Oudhoff: "The reinforcement of the IT-department is therefore crucial. The government is grateful that the TWO understood the urgency and that is was able to provide assistance through the mutual agreement. As a result, the Ministry of General affairs in Sint Maarten and the TWO jointly drafted a plan of action to strengthen the IT department."
Creating a solid foundation
This plan was the start of the project 'Revamping the IT-department', to which ICTU contributes. Tjandra Lake is working for the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations in the Netherlands. She is advisor of the Temporary Work Organization (TWO) on Sint Maarten: “In August 2022 Norbert Jansen, who leads the ICTU-team, travelled to Sint Maarten, together with my predecessor. Together with Femi Badejo they wrote a project plan to sustainably strengthen Sint Maarten’s IT.” This project plan is implemented by a team consisting of ICTU colleagues and colleagues hired by ICTU from the Dutch IT-market. In January 2023, this team traveled to Sint Maarten. Lake: “In mid-2023 I took over the coordination of TWO. Contact with both the ICTU and the IT-department is very good. Although the project is a merger of 3 parties, there is a clear goal in mind. That and the mutual trust creates 1 team, which I think is nice to see. As far as I am concerned, this project is a good example of where improvement is started from the root. In this way we jointly provide a solid foundation.”
Together with the ICTU-team a lot was tackled in a year's time. The IT-department was temporarily expanded with the ICTU-team, including key positions such as a CISO and a head of management. Together, they tackled the processes. For example, incident management and service request management were set up, which give the IT-department more control in daily operations. A TCO-report (Total Cost of Ownership) was also drawn up. Badejo: "Thanks to that report, we now have a picture of the licensing landscape and can see where we can save costs. There are various programs running within the government that require certain software. With the overview, we can see what the different programs need and provide them with that, without having to apply for new funding." The team continues to work on streamlining the other processes, such as the change process. Also a number of projects are being taken up in the context of IT-modernization. Badejo: Our first priority are the tax reforms. If we are successful there and the department is strengthened and works more efficiently as a result, then we continue the work with other departments." He adds: "My department has worked tirelessly over the last few years, and I'm really proud of that. But it wasn't sustainable. Now that the new organization is in place, we can look more at innovation."
Jansen: "By the summer of 2024, all core processes of the IT-department must be fully operational." At the same time, work is being done to expand the IT-department. So that when the ICTU-team is gone, there will be an IT-department that can properly support the organization in its day-to-day operations. And who can advise on innovations that help with the further development towards a digital government. In a few years' time, the department will have 37 FTE, says Badejo. This growth will be gradual, also because it is not easy to find high qualified IT-people on the island. Badejo: "We prefer to work with local people, but the IT-community on Sint Maarten is small." He does not rule out the possibility that the government will also recruit outside the island. Jansen: "The intention from the start was that we at ICTU temporarily help to strengthen the IT-department, but at the same time we ensure that the results we achieve are anchored. By recruiting new people for the department and setting up processes properly. That sustainable result is important."
The cooperation with ICTU is experienced as very pleasant. Ortega-Oudhoff: "The people at ICTU are not remote, they work as one team with the IT department on the transformation process. I also think it is very important that not only new people are recruited, but that current staff is also trained. Everyone is well involved in the change process, which makes the collaboration pleasant."
Badejo on the ICTU team: "I couldn't have wished for a better team. They came in and immediately gave a lot of support, support that was desperately needed. I benefit a lot from Norbert's advice and input." In a collaboration across borders, there is always a cultural difference that needs to be bridged, he says. "But the transition was seamless, the ICTU-team matches well with my team. It feels like one team, IT-people among themselves. I can say that we will miss them very much when the project ends. It has been a fun journey!"
The intention is that the larger, professionally designed IT-department can better serve the organization in realizing its ambitions in the field of services. Ortega-Oudhoff: "The government has prioritized IT to streamline processes and to increase efficiency. Ultimately, we strive for overall good governance, whereby IT and digitalization play an important role in increasing transparency, information, and accountability. Think for instance of the importance of high-quality development data. The foundation for meaningful policymaking, efficient resource allocation and effective public service delivery. If we can enhance our chain from collection, to management, to sharing by means of IT, it will also enhance our transparency and citizen participation."
Badejo: "My hope is that we will soon have a modern IT-department that has more focus on proactive activities and can think strategically with the organization." This requires more than properly setting up the processes in the IT-department, he also says: "Ultimately, we want the organization to become more self-reliant and that they need our support on applications and projects much less. This is not an IT issue, but a change management issue. We will be working on that in the coming years, with our department and the rest of the organization." It's a beckoning prospect after the project. But first, the focus is on further professionalizing the IT-department. And on achieving a goal that was formulated - with a wink - at the start of the project. Badejo and Jansen are willing to share that goal. Jansen: "Because the department was so small, it was difficult for Femi to take time off. That will soon change. The unofficial slogan of the project is therefore Femi to the beach."
This article is also available in Dutch: Samenwerking op Sint Maarten | ICTU