Kenya’s information communication technology sector is headed for sweeping changes likely to yield a leaner, more efficient governance system as the new administration takes shape.
A presidential directive issued late last month will make it mandatory for institutions tasked with overseeing the management of technology in government operations and selling Kenya as an ICT hub to be consolidated into one overarching body.
The most affected will be the Kenya ICT Board, which had presented itself as the government’s think tank on ICT matters, even originating the sector’s master plan.
Others to be swallowed up include the Directorate of E-Government and the Government Information and Technology Services (GITS). These bodies are scattered across three government ministries and often carry out overlapping roles.
It is also envisioned that the ICT Agency will take up the functions currently carried out by the government, leaving its parent ministry to be a policy-formulating organ.
“The motive is to avoid duplication of roles among government agencies and wastage of resources,” former Ministry of Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo told Smart Company last week.
The consolidation of the three bodies has been in the works for the past few years. But according to Dr Ndemo, the plan repeatedly met stumbling blocks as key stakeholders guarded their vested interests.
The current inefficient system is a hangover from Kenya’s early post-ICT sector liberalisation era. The Kenya Communications Act 1998 brought ICT policy formulation to the fore of government strategy. In 2000, GITS was established under the Ministry of Finance to provide computer services to government ministries.
“At the time, it made sense to have GITS under Treasury. The most important computations carried out by the government were on salaries,” said Mr Muriuki Mureithi, lead consultant at ICT firm, Summit Strategies.
With the realisation that technology could be used to do more than mathematics, the Directorate of E-Government was created in 2004 under the Office of the President. It was tasked with assisting government agencies to entrench ICT in their processes, thereby improving service delivery.
In 2007, as the sector matured, the Kenya ICT Board was formed to sell the country as a profitable technology investment destination and to grow investment in the industry.
Although the roles of the three bodies may have been distinct at first, as Kenya’s ICT sector has grown, the roles have increasingly overlapped, leading to duplication of activities and wastage of government resources.
“It is clear that ICT responsibilities are distributed to different arms of government with little, if any, coordination. This has led to lack of coordination and duplication,” reads a 2011 review of performance in Kenya’s ICT sector.
Duplication of roles went beyond the three bodies. Research ICT Africa, the organisation that authored the review, noted that the Kenya ICT Board had been carrying out roles that could easily have been construed as the mandate of the E-government Directorate.
It was also unclear who, between the Kenya ICT Board and the National Communications Secretariat, was supposed to develop the business process outsourcing policy.
The situation becomes murkier when one reads the GITS functions, as outlined by Treasury, which include developing and implementing ICT policy for the public sector.
The ICT Board, through its digital villages, may be seen to be pursuing universal access — a duty which the law lays firmly on the shoulders of the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK).
Duplication of roles has had implications on the government’s ICT budget as well as its efficiency in implementing projects in the sector.
A report by technology consulting firm Accenture revealed cases of misallocated funds and mismatched priorities in the government’s management of the ICT sector.
Accenture noted that more than 68 per cent of the government’s budget went to hardware purchase while staffing and software were woefully underfunded, taking up 18.5 per cent and 12.6 per cent of the budget respectively.
Lack of coordination, Accenture said, had led to a situation where the state lacks standard processes among the ministries and agencies, with inefficiencies in use of technology.
“The most abused role is that of infrastructure, where each of the agencies wants to have its own infrastructure. In some instances, the agencies appear to be competing with one another,” said Dr Ndemo.
As the government institutions expend energies protecting their respective turfs, citizens and the private sector have suffered. Kenyans are still struggling with delays associated with manual access of government services nearly 10 years after the E-government Directorate was set up.
Private sector players trying to work with the government face an uphill task. Many of them say that navigating complex government systems and satisfying the requirements of many bodies have been a serious impediment to public private partnerships.
“In the past, it was quite complex navigating the various structures of government to drive collaborative engagement on ICT projects. This is due to the number of different departments that one has had to engage with and the level of red tape involved,” noted Safaricom corporate affairs director Nzioka Waita.
2014 marks a self-imposed deadline for the government to create 30,000 jobs in the local ICT sector through business process outsourcing (BPO).
An investigation by Smart Company last year revealed that local companies without the necessary resources to navigate complex government processes were losing out on deals in the sector to foreign firms. Stakeholders reckon that changes in the sector will now make it easier for investors to engage directly with the government.
“Although the agencies were not necessarily run poorly, we sometimes had to do things three times. Change will create a conducive environment for both local and international investors,” said Kenya Information Technology Outsourcing Society (KITOS) chairman Tej Bedi.
Stakeholders are scheduled to meet this week with Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to discuss the consolidation process. This meeting will be crucial to Mr Matiang’i’s performance at the ministry, given the centrality of the ICT sector to development of the country’s blueprint, Vision 2030.
The economic pillar of Vision 2030 seeks to grow the economy by 10 per cent annually, buoyed by good performance in tourism, agriculture, wholesale, retail, and trade.
The Kenya ICT Master Plan seeks to transform the country into a technology hub by 2017. The plan calls for deeper integration of ICT into the education system, business, and government processes.
As part of the journey to achieving this goal, the government has stated that it will integrate and open public service platforms while minimising duplication in the sector.
However, to draw private sector players into this dream, the government will have to do more than just consolidate the agencies in the ICT sector. Technology companies have called for an overhaul of government procurement processes, which the government has promised to do.
“Local procurement laws are a challenge. We need to find ways to change them in order to increase partnerships with the public sector,” said Seven Seas Technologies chief executive Michael Macharia.
Seven Seas Technologies last week appointed former solicitor general Wanjuki Muchemi its executive chairman. The company said his expertise and experience in government would be crucial to guiding the firm as it looks to work closely with the government.