Solomon Islanders, particularly public officials, had been travelling to attend conferences or meetings throughout the globe every week.

Meetings range from issues on the environment, climate change, fisheries, foreign relations, diplomacy and so on.

Since the closure of international borders this has stopped.

For the government, monies budgeted for such undertakings for 2020 are now diverted towards the economic stimulus package launched recently.

With the suspension of such work related activities, the government is now embracing the use of technology to participate in important regional and global meetings.

“COVID-19 basically has also pushed everyone to embrace technology that they have never embraced closely before”, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET), Collin Beck said.

An example of this was a virtual meeting done by senior officials in the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

The officials have joined 26 other Pacific Island countries and territories for the 12th Heads of Fisheries Meeting organized by the Pacific Community (SPC).

“Usually for this sort of meeting, officials usually travel overseas”, a staff member from the MFMR said.

Led by the Director of Fisheries, Mr. Edward Honiawala, the Solomon Islands team has been able to share important issues regarding coastal fisheries and aquaculture to other Heads of Fisheries from the different Pacific countries and territories.

For the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade (MFAET), they were able to participate in a Special Meeting with representatives of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and other pacific countries on the COVID-19 issue.

“There are some things that you cannot wait or you cannot postpone. This is the reason why we are basically doing that”, Mr. Beck said.

He said currently through the use of video conferencing, a lot of money has been saved.

“Sometimes some of the meetings, even if it's only for two days, you will spend more days travelling. I think during the crisis, it has pushed us to do things we would not have otherwise done”, he said.

While this method of communication is a new trend, for the Government’s ICT Support Unit they are already at par when it comes to technology. Currently they have the video software needed for video conferencing.

“Cisco WebEx, Zoom and Vidyo are the three software that we have”, Sammie Wa'ahero of the ICT unit said.

He said so far the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had a Ministerial session through video conferencing in the not too distant past. He said one of parliament’s standing committees also did their session via video conferencing.

“Currently for a big number of participants, the video conferencing has to be done here in our office”, Wa'ahero said.

The SIG ICT support unit looks after the whole of government ICT support services. These services include coordination, delivery and support of any ICT project for the Solomon Islands government.

The SIG ICT Support Unit was established under the Ministry of Finance and Treasury with three core functions. These functions are aimed at reducing the ICT burden to Ministries and to ensure there is consistency in the delivery of ICT Advice and Services.

“The different video software that we have is to assist government workers in circumstances like this where they have to go online to hold meetings”, Wa'ahero said.

At the same time, the Melanesia Spearhead Group Secretariat in Port Vila has held its first online bilateral meeting on the 29th of April.

The meeting was between trade, biosecurity and health officials from Fiji and Vanuatu.
The secretariat's acting director, George Hoa'au told RNZ the new initiative was a crucial online platform that members could use in times of crisis.

He said, despite the Covid-19 travel restrictions, the secretariat could still continue to implement its work programme, which was approved at the Governing Body Meetings in Suva in February this year.

Hoa’au said the use of the zoom facility was recently tested by the Secretariat's information & technology (IT) division.

Globally, the corona virus outbreak was said to be one of the largest teleworking experiments ever for people everywhere.

Zoom, a company that provides online chat services through a cloud based peer-to-peer software platform is now said to be worth more than the seven biggest airlines in the United States.

“As of May 15, 2020, Zoom’s market capitalization has skyrocketed to USD$48.8 billion, despite posting revenues of only USD$623 million over the past year”, Visual Capitalist reports.

“The need to interact is much faster through these platforms. I think everyone is embracing the technology now”, Permanent Secretary, Collin Beck said.

Moses Tadokata who was on a five-month assignment with the Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI) in February this year said the undersea cable will bring high speed internet and lots of internet bandwidth terminated at the Solomon Cable Company facilities.

“The Solomon Cable Company will then sell the fast Internet bandwidth to Licensed Telecommunication and Internet service providers who will connect their networks into the cable facility. Ordinary Solomon Islanders and businesses who are customers of these service providers will then experience fast internet through the products and services provided by service providers,” Mr Tadokata informed businesses in Feburary.

Now surfing the internet is faster and Solomon Islanders are comfortably able to use the different video tools available for conferencing.

Though slow to embrace, especially the virtual conferencing, there is no choice now for public officials. Either one gets on with the trend or gets left behind.