We meet Ishmael Lucien Quiroz, Director of Public/Private Sector Dialogue in the Office of the Prime Minister, Belize.
Located in Central America, Belize is a beautiful country with the Caribbean Sea shorelines to the east and dense jungle to the west. The country is also known for its diversity, with a variety of cultures and languages.
Still, like most governments these days, Belize is not immune to new, modern challenges.
Ishmael Lucien Quiroz, Director of Public/Private Sector Dialogue in the Office of the Prime Minister, Belize, talks to Smart Cities World about how he is helping form an eGovernance policy and strategy for delivering public services via online systems to tackle these challenges and maximise benefits for the country and its citizens.
What is the main purpose of your role?
I serve as the official liaison between the Government of Belize and the domestic business community. Essentially, I am the voice of the private sector in government, while also being sure to convey the government’s perspectives.
What does the term ‘smart city’ mean to you?
A smart city to me is an urban or peri-urban space that actively makes efforts towards being sustainable (fiscally, environmentally and socially) through strategic/integrated planning and the use of technological tools and concepts.
Whether the municipality uses citizen science to monitor ecosystem services and the health of the environment, or makes investments in renewable/energy-efficient lighting and public transportation through public-private partnerships, or meaningfully encourages behavioural change with regard to solid waste management, a smart city is one that is serious about sustainability.
It uses data to inform decisions and uses various electronic means to gather and analyse relevant information for the benefit of good city management.
A smart city is one that is serious about sustainability. It uses data to inform decisions and uses various electronic means to gather and analyse relevant information for the benefit of good city management.
What benefits do new technologies offer for governments around the world?
Technology can improve the way in which public services are delivered to citizens. This not only adds transparency, efficiency in cost and time savings; it can also bring about simplification of processes, predictability and equity.
This enables better access to services for the general public and can also translate into an improved allocation of limited resources for the public sector, whereby budgets and human resources can be put to more productive uses.
Governments increasingly need to integrate the use of ICT in order to be responsive and to create an enabling climate for business competitiveness through modern policies that enable faster uptake of technology.
As industries face the perpetual need to incorporate efficiencies in order to keep pace with trading partners and markets, governments must ensure that they are enabling the needed innovations through improved technologies.
Of course, technology does not only include digital infrastructure; it also includes new concepts and ways of doing things. As such, innovations such as blockchain have the potential to improve governance and ensure accountability and greater citizen participation.
What challenges do emerging technologies create for governments?
While new technologies generally bring about improved ways of doing things, the time lag for acquiring skills, training and equipment tends to put pressure on governments to adapt, invest and update both the public sector employees and the public in general.
Change is never easy, and pushing through policy and legislative reforms are sometimes needed for enabling new technologies to function optimally.
These processes are often lengthy and, as such, governments need to allocate time and effort to delivering on them. In the process, there is the risk of frustrating the populace and private-sector with perceived inaction or excessive slowness. At the same time, governments often have to dedicate financial resources to bring about the needed changes.
At times, new technologies can represent lost tax revenue for government through loopholes as people engage in the informal economy in or in the absence of a specific policy or law to govern/regulate the new technological tools, e.g. VoIP and Airbnb.
What is your #1 priority right now?
The Leveraging Digital Technology for Improving the Business Climate in Belize project.
This project is meant to serve as a template for rolling out the government’s eGovernance policy and strategy for delivering public services via online systems.
The benefits will be to simplify procedures, reduce transaction cost and time, ensure transparency, enhance efficiencies within the public sector, and eliminate opportunities for corruption.
At this stage, the three public services selected for re-engineering and digitisation are: applying for a construction permit; registering a business name and incorporating a company; and applying for a trade licence. These have been selected because of their impact on the ease of doing business in Belize.
The idea is to foster an environment that is conducive to business by making the delivery of those services more efficient. This is a critically important project for us as it has the potential to improve Belize’s ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business report as well as to set the stage for the roll out of more eGovernment initiatives that stand to positively benefit the public at large.
What is your biggest challenge?
Resources (technical, human, financial) in public services are stretched. This represents a big challenge because having an adequate level of attention, support and financial contribution is needed.
Apart from this, political will and buy-in is usually the biggest challenge in pushing forward reforms and change. Because of this, the Public-Private Dialogue unit spends a lot of time communicating the importance of change, engaging with stakeholders and nurturing relationships with champions.
What do you see as your biggest achievement since you started the role?
Successfully seeing through the completion of the Public-Private Dialogue unit’s first major technical assistance project. We were able to ensure compliance with all contractual obligations and delivery within budget. We ensured the preparation of a high-quality deliverable and successfully launched the Comprehensive National Transportation Master Plan, including undertaking a Communication Strategy.
What is the best part of the job?
Being able to straddle both public and private sectors, and being sure to balance the perspectives of both government and the business community.
Convening different points of view in an effort to derive mutually beneficial solutions is something I firmly believe in and advocate, and it is something I am good at leading. As such, it really is a fulfilling part of the job.
What keeps you awake at night?
Time is of the essence, especially for the private sector. It worries me that the windows of opportunity with respect to some reform opportunities narrow with not enough action being realised. Improvements are needed in so many aspects of public policy that impacts the ability to conduct legitimate business – where does one start? One step at a time. The process of reform does take time, and patience is needed, but so is diligence and persistence. Strategising for success keeps the mind buzzing, but it’s something we must absolutely do.