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Ms. Demas said that as in everything else, the rule of law is "absolutely essential" in the conduct of e-commerce, which is based on two main pillars - property and contracts.
Speaking on the challenges posed by the introduction of e-commerce, at the Law Conference of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) at Hotel Tower, Georgetown, the Trinidad attorney called for uniformity and harmonization of the laws and regulations that govern e-commerce. If that didn't happen, she said, "we would be caught on the wrong side of the digital divide."
The two-day conference attracted a large audience of prominent attorneys, including senior members of the Guyanese and Trinidad judiciaries.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Ms. Desiree Bernard, gave the keynote address at Saturday's opening session, urging the institution of a code of conduct for lawyers and calling on judges and magistrates to assert their authority in addressing dealing with professional conduct and contempt of court. Participants over the two days addressed the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions, progress of Constitutional Law, Parliament - a democracy or mockery, the Caribbean Court of Justice, Women and Governance, and other topics.
Demas pointed out in her presentation that the transformation of a commercial system that is based on principles established two centuries ago into one that will be conducted on the principles of the Information Age is a formidable challenge that has to be overcome.
She observed that the Caribbean has been consumers of new information technologies instead of being creators.
In this regard, she urged that creativity should be harnessed so that people in the Caribbean can become owners of Intellectual Property Rights, noting that knowledge and information are economic assets that can be used for advancing development.
Demas said paperwork in the traditional system of transacting commerce sends up the final cost of a product by as much as 10% which is much too high. E-commerce aims at removing that additional cost through the implementation of the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) system, she said.
In this regard, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNITRAL) has sought to facilitate this system through standardization by the establishment of EDIFACT, in which the legal requirements and mechanics of e-commerce are contained.
Coordinator of the Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP), Mr. Vidyaratha Kissoon, urged a holistic and multi-dimensional approach which seeks to establish global, regional and local linkages in order to fruitfully benefit from the developments of Information Communication Technology (ICT).
To achieve this vision, leadership, strategic alignment with other countries and political will at all levels are required, as well as a coordinated approach in the procurement of electronic communication equipment that must be relevant to national developmental needs.
One of the restrictive factors in the implementation of ICT in Guyana is the high cost of energy which amounts to as much as 75% of costs, Kissoon noted.
Consultant to the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Mr. Tim Greene, said a draft Bill on the use of e-commerce has been prepared and the widest consultations will be sought to bring it in line with national aspirations and objectives.
The Bill seeks to establish and clarify the legal basis for the implementation of e-commerce, he explained, adding that it is based on similar legislation that has been developed in The Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
The legislation is essential to ensure that Guyana becomes part of the world economy and existing business models which are being increasingly propelled by e-commerce.
However, he opined that the private sector should take the lead in the development of e-commerce with the government being a facilitator, providing a conducive environment and appropriate infrastructure through the establishment of pilot schemes.
Greene noted the uniqueness of Guyana in that it is English-speaking and is in the same time zone as the U.S. east coast.
The introduction of e-commerce would be of special benefit to the tourism sector providing a good opportunity for the advertising and promotion of Guyana's tourism products, he said.
Attorney-at-Law Mr. Teni Housty said that having a Domain Name and harnessing new Information Technology would help Guyana towards establishing a global presence and move into the direction of the information "super highway."