Dr. Tony Feghali of the American University of Beirut joined the Berkman Center for a luncheon discussion on Monday, October 27th. He spoke about eReadiness in Lebanon.
The following are notes from the discussion:
Tony Feghali: (summarized what is currently happening in Lebanon) We don't want to duplicate efforts. We'd like to create one readable document for policymakers - gauge progress on ICT, eReadiness, etc. Hopefully it will be a sustainable tool, we can create a system that can be updated, adjusted.
Increase regional cooperation, Lebanon is transitioning into an information society. Have modern cabling, voice & ISDN services are now in place, 2 cell phone operators. People were deprived so long they quickly adopted cell phones. Telecom will be privatized.
There is no data on the GDP and census data is not very good. How can Lebanon be on the eReadiness map?
ICT regulations: IPR & online banking laws were passed in '99, but that doesn't mean they are being enforced. Digital signature law under review, certificate authentication and privacy leg. is on the way. ICT committee was appointed in '01; waiting to see what they come up with. Working toward an ICT business plan.
2500 civil servants are trained on basic ICT tools (MS Office, etc.). Several hundred trained on administration of these tools. Extra compensation is to be given to those who are trained.
There are awareness campaigns going on, and community centers - "Smart Bus". There's a weekly TV show in Arabic.
Efforts to measure competitiveness: GITR, National eReadiness (based on GITR), McConnell (consulting firm, data is not free). Want a graph to show to a minister - we want to go from here, to here. Show him/her the priorities, a map of how we can accomplish it.
Questions: has Lebanon been excluded from reports because of lack of data? Probably. Due to lack of cooperation between gov't, NGO's and private sector? Do we need a more customized tool for countries like Lebanon? Probably not.
Lebanon can contribute data to existing models, compare output of different models. Can we help with qualitative info, better statistical methods? Better estimation?
Mike Melnyck: I went to a talk 5 years ago on a similar topic; that person said the cost of starting up an ISP was huge.
TF: A year ago they slashed the fee - not so much the starting cost, it's bandwidth that was so expensive. Dialup accounts cost about the same as here, but phone fees are high. Want flat fee per certain number of hours. Satellite is illegal. Should be making it cheap to train the people. Not quite there with wireless ISPs yet. Where gov't can get money, they will. VoIP is there, cheaper for overseas calls.
Colin Maclay, Berkman Staff: Could you leverage EU standards or pressure from business community?
TF: That movement exists. We have some corruption too. If it meets someone's needs who is in power, it might work. To change, you need to give them results they can trust - empowers people. We are getting closer because we did this. Don't give the minister a dense document. They want a quick fix.
Geoffrey Kirkman, Berkman Staff: Our analysis (GITR) is a 1st level analysis - how the information is used is what's meaningful. Tourism, service sector could rebuild post-war. Link technology to competitive sectors - you need to take it to the next level.
TF: People are making these efforts. You have a sheet per country - start there, this is where we stand. Someone like me can fine tune that for Lebanon, use it as a case study. Mix qualitative and quantitative data.
CM: Need a starting point but not to spend too much time generating it. Pick a place to start: tourism, agribusiness. Do a specific study, how to use it, what are the barriers, opportunities for partnership. Agribusiness will say yes, these are the things we need - it's a concrete step forward.
TF: I agree, given the structure of the numbers. Need results for policymakers.
GK: Macro v. micro level analysis - need to create customized analysis for Lebanon. If you don't know the macro numbers, sometimes micro numbers are easier - you can approach the industry directly.
TF: Started with the software industry - had interesting findings. They told me to multiply the official numbers by two, because companies are evading taxes. Laws are old. One company, they do desktop publishing software in Arabic - they sell online, could be getting paid anywhere. USAID has funding but they don't want to do studies, they want projects. My professor hat will deal with the applied research. GITR - how can we enhance and fine tune it? It's a scenario to think about. Someone on the ground could work with that.
TF: Why aren't we the Ireland of the Middle East? We have cheap labor but are not being compared to India etc. We have to calibrate the data against something - it needs to be other countries.
MM: Do you need different data?
TF: You get a list of indicators - but how are they really measured? Either you have to hop onto the most reliable existing system, or add to it, or start over, which doesn't make sense.
CM: In the past, overreliance on numbers when they aren't very good - maybe less good than usual - it's the same in most of the developing world. There are limitations. Even in work we have done there are shortcomings because numbers don't exist, changes happen quickly, etc. Without qualitative interpretation it's meaningless, and it's also meaningless without quantitative data. Some specific areas, you might have good data. Maybe approach it from a qualitative perspective, try to generate more quantitative data. Doing the GITR again would b e a lot of work - less study, more action - maybe a regional comparison, sectoral comparison. Identify the key factors.