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Catapulted into the information society

Interview with Jackson Miake, ICT program manager at the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer under the Prime Minister’s Office for the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu. He is in charge of the development and implementation of Vanuatu’s ICT & telecommunications policies.

To place this Q&A in context, could you tell us a little bit about your country?

Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, an archipelago of some 83 islands, 1,750 kilometres east of Australia. Vanuatu’s 250,000 inhabitants live off tourism, offshore financial services, agriculture, cattle raising and fishing, mainly for domestic consumption. The long distances to our main markets in Australia,Asia and North America seriously hamper our economic development prospects. On the other hand, despite being located on the ‘Ring of Fire’, with its earthquakes and tsunami risks, Vanuatu was recently proclaimed the most ecologically efficient country and happiest place on earth in a survey by the New Economics Foundation and the Friends of the Earth.

Does Vanuatu have a national e-strategy?

An international submarine cable system linking Port Vila to Suva, Fiji is due to be completed in January 2014. It has 200 times more capacity than our current satellite connection and over the years this capacity will be vastly expanded. In preparation of this development, we are completing our ambitious ICT-for-all policy that aims to ensure the broad use of the many new opportunities the cable connection will offer. In fact, we want 97% of the people on Vanuatu to have broadband internet access by 2017! We are also doing our utmost to have the tourist industry and off-shore financial services optimally connected, and perhaps most importantly schools and vocational training centres as well.

Why does your government put so much emphasis on connecting schools and training centres?

Connecting our schools and training centres is for us a priority number one because we want to teach Vanuatu’s youth in using ICTs. As agriculture, accounting and wood carving are parts of our lives, so are ICTs, and therefore we need to teach our students how to use this technology properly.

It is clear what the tourism and banking industry will gain from broadband access to the internet, but what do farmers and fishermen stand to benefit?

Our farmers and fishermen need better and more accurate information on market prices and the quality standards they must meet to add value to their produce and timely warning about impending challenges, such as pests or imminent tsunamis. They can already obtain this information from our government offices. But our government will take this information much closer to them, to information hubs in their schools in their own communities.

How will you actually connect farmers and fishermen?

We intend to pool the information services of all government ministries and to make our schools community information hubs where people can access them. We want to make our students change agents who can help their parents and show them how they can access these information services. To implement this strategy we will learn from the success of a recent telecentre pilot project where we accomplished just that. And in the future we will also introduce mobile based applications and send updated information they request as SMS to the cellular phones.

Your government seems to be particularly concerned about cybercrime. What type of risks do you actually foresee?

We expect the connection to international data communication infrastructures to generate an enormous surge of online services. This surge will inevitably come with spamming, phishing and pharming, identity theft and subsequent fraudulent access to bank accounts and many other forms of cybercrime. Our government has therefore given high priority to policies that will ensure that adequate measures against cybercrime are implemented on time.

How do you intend to mitigate cybercrime?

It’s crucial that people are made aware of the risks of cybercrime and educated about how they can protect themselves. Our first priority is therefore to educate our students at schools to be mindful of the information sources they access and the spam they receive, and to report anything they see as suspicious. We have yet to put a comprehensive infrastructure and tools in place to combat cybercrime, but we are doing what we can to get the message across to our students, government officials and business people. Simultaneously we are developing a National Cybersecurity Policy that will put into place minimum mandatory security standards for operators of critical ICT infrastructures, strengthen the relevant legal frameworks and respond to the global nature of cybercrimes by strengthening Vanuatu’s ability to participate in international efforts against such threats.

Could one say that Vanuatu is leapfrogging into the information society?

Yes. Vanuatu is new to the ICT and telecommunications arena as our telecom market was only liberalised in 2008. Since then we have achieved a great deal in a very short time. Our success builds on strong government support and the fruitful relationship the government has with the regulator and the business community, which is unique and shows our commitment to provide safe access to the information society for our people throughout the islands.

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Interview with Jackson Miake, ICT program manager at the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer under the Prime Minister’s Office for the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu. He is in charge of the development and implementation of Vanuatu’s ICT & telecommunications policies.

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