Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : June 24th 2014 Contents A36
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Tuesday, June 24, 2014
It started as a discussion in two parts
about Bitcoin and other cryptocurren-
cies, but it soon became a micro-refer-
endum on the basic differences between
digital currencies and traditional finan-
The talk featured Richard Jobity, an
economist and business analyst who
worked for a decade at the Central Bank
and Shiva Bissessar, a young technologist,
currently Managing and Technical Director of Pinaka
Technology Solutions who also wrote is MSc thesis
The two men presented to a small group gathered
by the T&T Computer Society (TTCS) at UWI s Open
Campus two weeks ago.
At the centre of their differing perspectives that
evening is the central issue that s emerging out of this
emergent virtual system for assigning value and trading
Bitcoin at its simplest is digital cash, electronically
created and stored and accepted by members of its
virtual community as a medium of conveying value.
Introduced as open-source software in 2009 by the
pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto, it is the
best known of a new generation of cryptocurrencies;
technologies powered by the enormous complexity of
Indeed, working on the complex mathematical cal-
culations that underpin Bitcoin s technology is how
one earns its units of value, known as bitcoins.
Participants hoping to earn bitcoins volunteer their
computer s processing power to verify and record pay-
ments into the block chain, a public ledger that acts
as both a repository for bitcoin holdings and a protected
accounting of all transactions made with the curren-
cy.It s now more common for bitcoins to be used as
an intermediary value for commercial transactions,
with users buying bitcoins at an ATM created for such
transactions or in online bids.
In 2013, several major online resellers began accepting
bitcoins as payment for goods, including
Overstock.com, Tiger Direct and Expedia.
Some folks have used bitcoins to buy Caribbean
But don t mistake digital controls for financial over-
sight. Bitcoins are traded like cash, not monitored
currency transaction instruments like bank transfers
or credit cards.
The Silk Road project, created as an anonymous
digital trading Web site by Ross William Ulbricht, was
shut down by the FBI in October 2013 after it was
discovered that it was being used as a hub for payments
for a range of illegal activities.
More than 170,000 bitcoins were seized as part of
that shutdown, worth over US$30 million in the digital
As Richard Jobity noted during his talk, to qualify
as money, a medium of exchange "must be reliably
saved, stored and retrievable and it must be usable
when it is retrieved."
Under the Financial Act of 2008 in T&T, the Central
Bank regulates all electronic currency, including inter-
national money transfers, but it s not clear that bitcoins
Shiva Bissessar was more bullish on the potential
for bitcoins as a lubricant for the economy, pointing
to its potential for cash remittances.
In T&T and Latin America, the transfer fee for
remittances is 6.21 per cent and in Africa, it soars to
an average of 12 per cent, rising as high as 19 per cent.
Bissessar pointed to the example of Kenya s BitPesa
(https://www.bitpesa.co/) which charges a flat three
per cent for money transfers.
Such systems leverage bitcoins as a medium to
transfer value, moving money from one fiat currency
to another with few impediments.
Bissessar would like to see T&T become a centre
for large scale bitcoin mining, taking advantage of our
relatively low electricity costs.
Gabriel Abed, co-founder of the
(http://koblitzgroup.com/), has been
travelling throughout the Caribbean
seeking audiences with finance ministers
to discuss the potential for instituting
a cryptocurrency regime throughout
the Caricom region.
Bissessar s efforts at getting the atten-
tion of government finance officials and
the Central Bank have not been met with enthusiasm,
but he remains confident that the advantages of par-
ticipating in the growth of cryptocurrencies and taking
a leading role in introducing them will be an important
asset for the local economy.
Read an expanded version of this column online
On Bitcoin and beyond
Shiva Bissessar explains cryptocurrencies at a recent TTCS tech meeting at Open
Campus. PHOTO: MARK LYNDERSAY
Shiva Bissessar's slide deck on digital currencies:
A recorded Skype interview by Bissessar with
Gabriel Abed: http://ow.ly/yjZUT
Is Bitcoin legal? http://ow.ly/yk0gq
The legal landscape for Bitcoin (interactive graphic):
MORE ABOUT BITCOIN
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