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The Bahamas releases national platform for digital certificates using blockchain technology

Financial Secretary Marlon Johnson, left; Cecilia Strachan, permanent secretary, Department of Labour; Dion Foulkes, minister of labor; Peter Turnquest, deputy prime minister and minister of finance; Michael Nelson, IDB acting country representative and Timyka Davis, IDB labor market specialist.

The Bahamas is the first country in the Caribbean and Latin America to implement a national credentialing system using blockchain technology. The government successfully completed a pilot project, Bahamas Blockcerts, which will radically improve the national system of creating, issuing, viewing and verifying national certificates of varied types. Long-term, this could include training certificates, academic diplomas and degrees, business license and tax compliance certificates, and a host of other national credentials.

The Bahamas’ National Training Agency (NTA) issued its first Bahamas Blockcert on June 28, 2018 for a cohort of 78 participants graduating from the “Workforce Preparatory Programme” for training in soft skills and workplace dynamics. This course is a stepping stone for participation in the National Apprenticeship Programme.

These Bahamas Blockcerts are nationally accredited digital certificates that use blockchain technology. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) provided a grant to the government to sponsor the pilot, which officially commenced in April 2018. The technology underpinning the system was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The government engaged Learning Machine, an MIT-based specialist, to supply the technology locally.

In less than three months, the NTA was setup on the government’s new Blockcert platform. Moving forward, the NTA will issue Bahamas Blockcerts for all of its workforce readiness and skills training courses, which are provided to hundreds of unemployed Bahamians, and those who wish to sharpen their skills.

NTA participants are now the first Bahamians to acquire their digital portfolios with nationally accredited Bahamas Blockcerts. These Bahamas Blockcert Portfolios are stored on a free mobile app. They simply contain a collection of website links (URLs) that uniquely identify each digital certificate inside the portfolio.

Instead of needing paper certificates, individuals with Bahamas Blockcerts can simply add a list of website links in their resumes that coincide with their various NTA certificates, or they can send the link in an email to an employer or other institution for free viewing and verification. That means, no more travelling around to physically pick up and drop off paper certificates; no more having to scan paper documents or to fight the bureaucracy.

Right now, the NTA is the only agency able to issue a Blockcert for the Bahamas Blockcert Portfolio. However, up to 23 national agencies could be integrated into the national platform. Preliminary discussions are underway to have the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) brought onto the system next. The Ministry of Finance also plans to come onboard the Department of Inland Revenue (DIR). In the future, other agencies such as the University of The Bahamas (UB) and the National Insurance Board (NIB) could be included.

In all cases, instead of paper certificates, a Bahamas Blockcert Portfolio would contain shareable digital certificates that could easily and freely be viewed and verified using secure blockchain technology from anywhere in the world.

Michael Nelson, the acting country representative for the IDB Group in The Bahamas, noted: “A key message here is that the government of The Bahamas has begun taking strong steps to alleviate legacy bureaucratic challenges faced by its citizens, by incorporating innovative frontier technologies such as blockchain-based technology. In doing so, The Bahamas is setting the stage to increase its competitiveness, productivity and economic growth trajectory.”

“The potential for this technology is truly transformative. We piloted the initiative with the NTA, but the vision is to have Bahamas Blockcerts form a core part of the government’s National Blockchain Strategy. We are talking about using the technology for citizen security, to improve the land registry and a host of other initiatives,” said Dion Foulkes, minister of labor.

“Based on the plan, we will upgrade the government’s digital infrastructure and put the systems in place to bring our vision of a digital government, a digital Bahamas, to life. This is not likely to happen in its entirety within the next year, maybe not even the next two years, but we have started already and The Bahamas is already at the vanguard. We are leading this effort in the region, and the NTA pilot is the perfect proof of concept. It demonstrates how the government can scale the implementation of the blockcert component across other institutions,” said Minister Foulkes.

Learning Machine Senior Vice President of Business Development Natalie Smolenski said: “Our experience working with governments has shown that bringing in Learning Machine means investing in your people. Not only do citizens receive digital documents that they own for a lifetime and are interoperable with multiple identity platforms, but Learning Machine puts skin in the game by being on the ground and working with local stakeholders to make every project a success.”

The Ministry of Labour was the executing agency for the pre-pilot. The Ministry of Finance will spearhead the National Blockchain Strategy Committee, and the integration of the Blockcert project with the government’s Ease of Doing Business initiatives. The first meeting of the committee is planned for early September. One of the first objectives is to identify key economic and social performance indicators to document overall strategic success.

“The technology to bring these ideas to life is ready to go. We simply need a plan in place that clearly outlines our desired economic and social outcomes and all of the steps along the road. For the Bahamas Blockcerts component we have a road map, but we will expand on that as part of the National Blockchain Strategy,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest.

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