Collaboration among governments is essential to solving national, regional
and global issues. This collaboration is achievable through transnational digital
government (TDG) using information technology (IT) to overcome national differences
and to facilitate information collection and exchange (Fortes, et al 2004).
In 1998, at the Summit of the Americas held in Santiago, Chile, the Inter-American
Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization of American States
(OAS) was mandated to develop a hemispheric mechanism to monitor and evaluate
the progress of the efforts against drug in all its manifestations among the
34 member states of the OAS. In keeping with this mandate the CICAD developed
the Multilateral Evaluation Mechanism (MEM): a set of indicators to be used
as a monitoring tool for the hemisphere. The MEM provides a broad range of questions
that are used to develop a clear picture of a government’s effort in the
fight against drugs.
In 1999, CICAD and the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States
of America entered into an agreement to conduct technological research in an
effort to develop tools and mechanisms to support countries of the hemisphere
in addressing their drug problem. One year later (2000), Belize formed a National
Grid Alliance which later evolved into Belize’s National Observatory on
Drugs (NOD). This Observatory is a network of information gathering units from
within government units, non-government organizations and the private sector,
linked to provide easy access to pertinent user-authorized information. This
network allows collaborating agencies to have active participation in the collection
and dissemination of information while ensuring that only authorized personnel
access and modify the information. This was in keeping with the agreements and
discussions made at the Quebec Summit of the Americas (2001) in Canada, where
Belize, along with other countries, committed itself to promoting a connectivity
agenda, for the Americas, which would facilitate the integration of the hemisphere
into an increasingly knowledge-based society.
In 2001, CICAD and the NSF approached Belize and the Dominican Republic requesting
that these countries collaborate, through their independent NODs, in a Transnational
Digital Government (TDG ) research project as a pilot for the hemisphere. It
was established from the onset that the research aspect of the project must
be conducted by universities in the USA, Belize and the Dominican Republic.
In late 2001, a pivotal meeting was held in the Dominican Republic attended
by representatives of the seven participating universities, the immigration
departments of Belize and Dominican Republic and the national drug councils
of both countries. At the meeting, participants agreed that the research will
address MEM Indicator #83 -- “Displacement“. This indicator records
new trends in the global phenomenon of the mobility of the drug problem´s
different manifestations with particular focus on suspicious cross border drug
traffickers and drug trafficking.
Belize and the Dominican Republic were seen as ideal candidates, to serve as
pilot nations for this hemispherical research project, as their similarities
and differences promised interesting challenges and benefits for all thirty-four
(34) member countries of the OAS. The two countries both have land-locked borders
with a country that cannot be deemed a “friendly” neighbor; both
are Caribbean in location; both have masses of unused land near to their borders;
both receive travelers from air, land and sea; both are key candidates as a
drug trans-shipment ports. There are differences that made this project’s
selection of countries even more interesting: the cultures are different; the
systems of government differ; the official languages are far removed one from
the other. When these two countries establish meaningful, reliable, efficient
and instant information sharing on border activity in the two languages being
studied, we can hope to achieve communication, of this nature, with any other
country using any of the four language groups represented at the OAS: Dutch,
English, Portuguese, and Spanish.(for that matter any other language).
The results of this project represent a practical application of the utilization
of technology in support of national and hemispheric collaboration through instant
communication in different languages for the protection and safety of national
borders. It also highlights the importance of information sharing as the key
component in safe-guarding the sovereignty of states while technology provides
the vehicle to this end. The evidence of this achievement will be clear when
the final product is installed and made operational in both countries in October
Paramount to any research project on TDG is the formation of sound government-academia
For such partnerships to develop a critical step is the securing of the highest
level of political blessing and legislative facilitation from both governments.
In the case of the Dominican Republic, the President authorized the head of
the Drug Council and by extension the Director of Immigration, to operate on
behalf of the nation. For Belize, authority came from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Ministry of Health (under which the National Drug Abuse Control
Council – NDACC – operates).
Once the political and legislative blessings had been secured and the necessary
instruments of understanding had been drawn between the two countries and other
relevant parties, the responsibility for administering funds, guiding and monitoring
of the project was entrusted to the Drug Councils of the respective countries.
A part of their remit was the enlisting of qualified and capable personnel who
would become engaged in the practical aspects of the research and would provide
the councils with technical advice at each juncture. These technocrats would
then become instrumental in setting into motion the vision articulated while
the local Drug Councils worked in harmony with CICAD to ensure active and effective
participation in the project.
Both UB and PUCMM played an integral role in the managerial as well as the
technical aspects of the project. Having enlisted the expertise of lecturers
and professors at each institution to guide the local research aspect, the team
then sought assistance from within its ranks and from the Immigration Departments
to undertake a close study of the mechanisms used and the laws that governed
the immigration process particularly as it pertained to suspicious travellers
going through remote border stations. At UB this included selecting a promising
student, from our Information Technology program, to be trained in the developmental
processes and systems being used in the project’s application development.
This activity became a barometric reading for the university’s IT program
in that the student chosen proved to be amply prepared to deal with the training
provided and, upon his return, became and remains a key player in addressing
issues relating to the local arm of the project.
Project participants and systems developers worked toward providing IT applications
to support processes of collection, notification, and sharing of Data on Remote
Border (DRB) enforcement activities between the Dominican Republic and Belize.
Early in the project’s timeline, the US research team developed a conceptual
model and a prototype of the system envisaged. This system (Figure 3) would
allow immigration agents at point-of-entry stations to:
- Enter traveler information in their databases by scanning documents, typing
information from documents or interviews, or using a voice/dialogue-based
- Query the system to verify information or supplement traveler information
- Determine if the traveler is on a “watch list” of suspicious
or wanted individuals;
- Import data on suspicious people from various agencies into the local database;
- Receive advise on the appropriate action(s) to take for specific individuals/situations;
- Specify system actions for system stakeholders;
- Register to be notified of specific events by e-mails and/or cell phones;
- Access/transmit shareable data from/to the databases of collaborating countries.
The system would also provide automatic data translation where language barriers
prevent communication (particularly translation of free-text data typed by the
agent or entered verbally).
Clearly, a critical component of this model and the system envisaged was that
each country would need to have an electronic database from which data collected
on travellers could be searched and retrieved. This database existed in the
Dominican Republic but not in Belize. Belize had to develop this database and
begin using it. The database had to reflect the unique desires and expertise
of the Belizean Immigration Department while striving to be compatible with
the protocols and processes being discussed for connectivity and information
sharing purposes. This required dialog and collaboration on a constant and consistent
While the word collaboration can take on various meanings depending on the
context in which it is used, this paper uses it to mean a state in which a group
of individuals work together to achieve a common goal.
This experimental endeavour required major collaboration and constant interaction.
It rose out of the interest of leaders of state to investigate ways in which
they can address a devastating and quickly escalating national and regional
problem: drugs. Therefore, governments elected to collaborate in order to engage
in a process whereby each would need to invest time, and resources to reach
the outcome desired.
The long-term vision is one where governments and public-service agencies can
access and use each other’s information infrastructure as if they were
a part of a single information grid where information and services are securely
deployed, shared in a controlled manner, and available with the necessary quality
While working towards this ambitious goal, the project more modestly targets
a process of transnational cooperation among universities, government agencies
and an international organization in dealing with the negative impacts, on society,
of illicit drug production, traffic and consumption. The process is coordinated
by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD) of the Organization
of American States (OAS). The work is performed by a team of researchers from
seven universities (U. of Belize, Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre
y Maestra in the Dominican Republic, Carnegie Mellon U., North Carolina State
U., U. of Colorado, U. of Florida, U. of Massachusetts) and experts from agencies
in the three participating countries: CICAD’s Inter-American Observatory
on Drugs, the National Drug Abuse Control Council (NDACC) of Belize’s
Ministry of Health, and the National Drug Council of the Dominican Republic
The essence of collaboration is the fact that labor is common to the parties
involved. Additionally, this labor is cooperative. There is no room in collaboration
for stardom or apathy. The TDG project quickly became a project saturated with
challenges that highlighted collaboration at every level. The two pilot countries
(Belize and the Dominican Republic) were expected to maintain close contact
with each other and to dialog often about the progresses made and the challenges
faced. It was from these two countries that the researchers from the USA would
garner their data and fine-tune their protocols. From the way a word was translated
or the structure of a sentence to the appropriate wording and designation of
correspondences, questions had to be asked and answers needed to be found. Additionally,
these answers could not be based on observation of practice but the institution
of policies. On the local front, one could make a phone call, send an email
and maybe even visit a site. This was not true when the contact was between
nations. Academics in Caribbean territories do not enjoy the same level of connectivity
that their US counterparts often have at ready disposal. Unless all participants
traveled to one location to discuss the changes being felt, mass communication
was always limited.
In order to guarantee that communication between and among participants was
not hindered, a number of teleconferences were held, and a textual interface
was developed to assist in recording comments and in sharing ideas as the project
progressed. These tools did not rule out the use of email and strategically
placed phone calls.
This collaborative venture has led to learning at a broad hemispherical level.
It has been used to present data and information to facilitate the development
of tools to make real-time information transfer and interaction with participating
countries. It has also been used to determine how academia works within its
local political environment
Critical lessons have been learnt in the conduct of this project. Lessons ranged
from the political to the personal with quite a few categories lodged between.
At one end is the political, where the critical elements are protocol and knowledge
of the intricacies of dealing with governments and their unique methods of transacting
agreements and in making decisions of national importance. At the other end
is the more personal, local collaborative arrangements - whether they be the
product of oral agreements or formal written directive. This included intra-institutional
politics as it relates to work load of instructors, arrangement for time to
conduct research and the monitoring of the time spent on research; the government-academia
collaboration particularly with respect to coordination of time and the juggling
of obligations. Between the political and the personal is the inter-institutional,
long distance challenges that are ever-present, persistent and often acutely
negative. However, by far the most challenging is the temptation to believe
that the work one does is never going to amount to much more than a memory.
This is where practical application of persistence, and personal commitment
were paramount. A vital lesson in this is that leaning on the “brother”
when you’re not strong is not just a thought; it is a necessary part of
In addition to the scientific learning and the broadening of our perception
and application of breakthrough, state-of-the-art technologies, the University
of Belize has been sensitized to the dynamics of national and international
political interactions. Additionally the university has become aware that, besides
being an umbrella organization of countries within this hemisphere, the OAS
promotes an atmosphere in which each country strongly maintains its independent
sovereignty and the participation of nations in any endeavor remains dependent
on its individual political commitment. Academicians at the University of Belize
have experienced, through this project, another level of collaborative learning
and academic interaction between and among scholars across countries and cultures.
This new exposure has highlighted the fact that, apart from the academic and
scientific aspects of research, significant attention must be given to the way
in which academics function in their own states and schools.
At the University of Belize, the Information Technology Department at the central
campus in Belmopan had been identified as the unit that would assume responsibility
for the university’s involvement in this project. As in many endeavors,
the end product can become so attractive that the intermediate steps and the
challenges to get to that end become blurred. Soon the university realized that
to move this project along we needed “young blood” : people with
no preconceived notions as to how things ought to be done and with limited experiences
as to how they were being done. Students studying in our Bachelor of Science
degree program (Information Technology) were employed to develop the database
needed at the Immigration Department and to populate that database by being
present and involved in the actual immigration activities at two border stations,
a sea port and the international airport. These students then proved critical
to the process of deciding what the “lay man” expected of the immigration
department and what limitations the department faced in meeting the needs of
the traveler. Not only were these students helpful in making the path a bit
clearer, they were allowed a partial experience in creating a product that would
benefit their entire nation.
Once the project has completed its experimental stage and the product is rolled
out and used, it would represent a major contribution that the University of
Belize would have made to the safety and sovereignty of Belize. It is a landmark
achievement in the fight against drugs in all its manifestations. UB’s
interaction and collaboration with the PUCMM and the five universities of the
USA opens doors for continued distance interaction and other online learning
processes in the future. This project is a model of the flexibility technology
can provide in the quest for knowledge and the work toward sharing knowledge
across and despite the distances that separate mankind.
This project began at the OAS and ends at the OAS. A primary beneficiary of
this project is CICAD and the OAS as it is with them that the vision, directive
and guidance for this project were initiated. The OAS has fulfilled its goal.
Since the OAS is a collection of nations, the beneficiaries are the respective
nations that are member states of the OAS. The region and, indeed the entire
hemisphere, benefits from this project. More specifically, Belize and the Dominican
Republic stand to benefit tremendously as it is with them that this first-of-a-kind
technology will rest. It is in and through these two nations that the success
of this project will become realistic and tangible.
One of the beneficiaries of this project is the team of researchers. These
are the people who will now be able to capitalize on the experience gained through
this project to avoid the pitfalls endured and anticipate the challenges and
successes experienced. While each researcher will walk away with his/her own
view of the project and opinions as to how/when things could have been done
differently, all would have grown significantly as a result of this project.
For those in Belize the experience has taught more than the academic degrees
could have hoped to teach. Our outlook on Immigration, Information Technology,
Research and the role each plays in the others development has changed tremendously.
The University of Belize, and more specifically, the IT department, is a direct
beneficiary of this project.
The most important beneficiary of this project is the Immigration and Naturalization
Department in Belize and its sister agency in the Dominican Republic. This department
can now make use of state-of-the-art technology, crafted with and for them to
address issues that have frustrated the department for as long as anyone can
remember. This department can now look forward to definitively identifying travelers
with questionable intent and assisting in their detention and prosecution with
a level of efficiency we could, until now, only dream of. The department can
now “draw the battle lines”. The criminals now have a new enemy.
The nation has a new tool and the fight against drugs has taken on a new meaning.
This project is expected to roll out its final system in October of this year.
It has been a long and arduous run. It has been a great run. Much has been given
to reach this point and much is expected as the project’s product begin
to demonstrate its usefulness
In all man’s doings, his greatest achievement is the discovery of that
which he has never known, the enhancement of that which he has always known
and imparting of that which others can learn from him. This is collaborative