There is more demand for seamless citizen-driven public services; boundaries are non-existent and governments must provide access, efficiency, transparency and effectiveness in public services.
By Frank K. Tumwebaze
The Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Frank K. Tumwebaze, on Thursday, July 20, 2017, addressed the ICT stakeholders consultative workshop at the Sheraton Hotel, Kampala on the Digital Uganda Vision. Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Prime Minister and Leader of Government Business, was the Chief Guest. Below are Minister Tumwebaze's edited remarks
Rt. Hon. Prime Minister,
Colleague Ministers and MPs present,
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT
Executive Directors of UCC, NITA-U, Posta and UBC
CEOs of telecom Companies present,
CEOs of media houses present,
Members of the ICT association of Uganda,
The ICT fraternity,
Friends of the media,
All stakeholders in the ICT industry,
Good morning to you ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to this ICT Sector Stakeholders Consultative Forum. Thank you for coming. On a special note, I take the opportunity to welcome our chief guest Rt Hon Dr Ruhakana Rugunda and I thank him for taking off time to accept to come to launch this consultative forum on the digital Vision for Uganda.
I would like to thank our partners and particularly our sponsors Intel and all our agencies i.e., UCC, NITA-U, Posta Uganda, UBC, UICT and Uganda Media Centre for making this meeting possible.
Why the Digital Vision?
With the ever changing demographic composition and technology trends, globalisation and increased access to knowledge by the citizenry, governments the world over are increasingly under pressure to meet expectations of the public through innovative and responsive citizen-driven services. There is more demand for seamless citizen-driven public services; boundaries are non-existent and governments must provide access, efficiency, transparency and effectiveness in public services. For all this to be, clear policy instruments discussed and bought-in by all stakeholders have to be put in place so as to create an enabling environment.
Today, we are not only discussing our in-house plans to enhance digitisation of Uganda, but we are also seeking your views as stakeholders in the ICT sector so as to help shape a common country ICT vision.
One, however, may ask, does this mean that Uganda and the Ministry of ICT did not have an ICT policy in place? The answer is that we are not short of ICT policies. We actually have many policies and strategies.
As the ICT sector, for example, we have the sector strategic investment plan (SIIP) guiding all the interventions of the ministry as well as the agencies. Different ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have their own in-house ICT strategies and have invested heavily to build electronic systems.
I take the opportunity to congratulate all those government agencies that have put ICT as a priority in their workplans.
It is also true that many government services in the field of e-commerce can now be assessed online. The digital vision we are formulating is, therefore, not undoing what has been achieved, but rather seeks to make the situation much clearer by integrating all the existing policies into one master document called Digital Vision with clearer milestones for the entire Government.
Just like the Ministry of Works sets construction standards for the construction industry, the Digital Vision will be the equivalent in terms of the ICT function. Integration of government systems aimed at increasing efficiency in the delivery of public services and fighting duplication of functions, cannot be complete without a clear digital vision understood by the whole government and setting out milestones for each sector.
When complete, the Digital Vision will be the overall policy ICT framework for the country. It will set targets/milestones/ ICT basic standards for each sector of government to follow and implement. It will define clearly, for example, what the judiciary needs to invest in so as to run e-courts.
What the Ministry of Health should do to run e-clinics (e-health), what the financial sector should do to run a digital cashless economy (e-commerce), what the agricultural sector should do to implement e-agriculture as well as many other sectors like education, transport and aviation. The Digital Vision will also set milestones for the country to invest in satellite communications in the future because it is the most reliable means of communication and least prone to nature and man-made disasters.
The discussion we are launching today, therefore, will continue to solicit as much knowledge as possible from various professionals of different sectors so as to define correctly what milestones to set. We shall also benchmark the work of other countries since Uganda is already an active member of many regional and international ICT fora like Smart Africa, Internet for All, ITU and Postal Union, among others. When the Digital Vision is complete and passed by Cabinet, each sector of government will, going forward, be audited to see how it complies with its sectoral ICT targets/milestones. Uganda will only progress upwards on the ICT rankings, if all the MDAs implement their respective targets. The private sector is always easy to cope with since efficiency makes a lot of sense to their business balance sheets.
The Digital Vision will also enumerate measures on how to enhance digital literacy among the population so as to narrow the divide between the educated and the uneducated and generally change the mind-set about uptake of ICTs. ICTs are here to stay and they can only continue advancing and disrupting the way we live. We, therefore, have to be prepared to harness them for positive growth. The Government has invested in connectivity and we are trying to make sure that we achieve affordability and, therefore, inclusion.
Whereas we have not achieved full access, internet connectivity can now be achieved in over 90% of our country through telecom operators and with the increasing penetration of smartphones, it is possible for anyone, anywhere, to access online content/services. With more continued investments in tech infrastructure by the Government and private operators, internet speeds will improve greatly. We are, however, aware of the high costs of data in our domestic market and we are trying to understand the push factors beyond what we know. Engagement with the licensed operators is ongoing to ensure that data costs are affordable and within the range of the regional market.
As I speak, the Government concluded the procurement of bulk internet bandwidth for MDAs/LGs which shall lead to a reduction in the cost of internet bandwidth. Effective July 1, 2017, the cost shall reduce from $300 to $190 per megabits per second per month for all Government MDAs, LGs and target user groups such as hospitals, research institutions, business process outsourcing agencies and innovation hubs. Even then, we want this cost to go down further and also go down in tandem with what the private operators are charging. The Government intervention is done cautiously so as not to squeeze the licensed telecom operators out of business. The engagement we shall be continuing to have with licensed operators will harmonise all this. E-government is increasingly taking centre stage in the innovation eco-system and as I pointed out earlier, most MDAs have taken their services online.
We have indeed witnessed the emergence of systems like IFMS, IPPS, e-citie, URA cargo tracking and IGG's Online Declaration System in Uganda and e-visa, among others. These systems have created a lot of efficiency gains for the public and the implementing agencies, but the challenge is that in most cases, they remain stand-alones with limited or no interaction at all with the rest of the Government. They have yet to integrate with the other systems and feed into one another. Our agency NITA-U is spearheading this integration. It will transform Government processes and cut out substantial delays of red tape. The digital vision will further define these linkages and also guide on the management and sharing of data across the Government.
This being a consultative forum, I wish to hear more from you. The presentations yet to be on the draft digital vision reflect only so far the internal views of the ministry. Feel free to dismantle the draft, critique it sharply such that the final output is for us all and is quality assured. But given the nature of ICTs and tech trends, our sector will constantly be reviewing this vision so as to match the changing times.
The writer is the Minister of ICT and National Guidance