In this interactive series, we invite our readers to send in questions to select public figures. Answers will be published in the next print and online editions. This week, ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru responds to your questions
1. Social media bullying is taking the nation by storm. Recently, two young girls were lured by Facebook friends to accept their sexual advances. They were raped, dumped and left to die in the bush. What is your ministry doing to end social media bullying?
Bonny Mutai, Londiani
This incident is a reminder that the internet and technology are only there to supplement our normal lives and all the precautions exercised in our everyday lives need to be taken. I am saddened by the ordeal that the girls underwent and would like to assure you that the government follows up on all crimes and this is not an exception. We are strengthening the prosecutors, judiciary and investigative arms of government through education and legal means to ensure such crimes and criminals face the full force of the law. In this regard the Cabinet has already approved and forwarded to Parliament for debate, the Computer and Cyber Crimes Bill that will see stiffer penalties applied to cybercrime and related corporate espionage offenders. My Ministry has also mandated the Communications Authority of Kenya to run a child online protection programme.
2. While I appreciate Kenya has good internet and mobile penetration, what strategies does the ministry have in place to strengthen internet coverage and strength in Nyeri especially in Kieni to enable farmers to access better markets by tracking prices across the country?
Kamau Gatwechi, Nyeri
Nyeri County is fairly well covered by both 2G and 3G mobile networks. During the Financial Year 2016/17, the government through, the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) supported the connectivity of three national libraries in Nyeri County by supplying computers, Local Area Networks and Internet Connectivity under the e-Resource Centres Project. This was to enhance internet access and usage in the county.
Members of the community including farmers have free access to the internet in these facilities.
It is also worth noting that 29 public secondary schools in Nyeri County have been selected through the Ministry of Education to benefit from CAK’s School Broadband Connectivity Project under Universal Service Fund during the current financial year.
The 29 public secondary schools in Nyeri are part of the 896 Schools earmarked across the country that will benefit from this project in the financial year. In addition, the Ministry is spearheading various projects to ensure universal access to all Kenyans.
3. There are fears the government may have lost out to French investors at the Telkom Kenya over the years. When can we expect to have a thorough audit of the goings-on at Telkom to determine what exactly happened?
Githuku Mungai, Nairobi
Contrary to the perception that the government lost in the France Telkom partnership, both parties parted on a win-win arrangement. Let us remember that the government offloaded 60 per cent of Telkom to France Telkom at a price slightly above $300 million, which was paid to the exchequer despite the institution having been a loss maker over the years.
They had the odious task of not only cleaning the books but also struggled to actualise their business model. Demand for equity cash injections calls over time made the relationship not possible.
This situation was reversed when the current partners, Helios Fund, took over the shareholding of Telkom as the new operators. Prior to their coming on board, a due diligence of the organisation was carried out to establish the value, financial status and viability of the business. It is during this process that negotiations ensued and the State was able to claw back the lost 10 per cent at no cost. The process culminated in a negotiated business plan which seeks to turn around the institution in the next seven years. We are now closely following performance.
4. There is a widespread perception that the government and its state corporations lose billions of shillings to wily software merchandisers. What is your take on this?
Githuku Mungai, Nairobi
It is true the government loses substantial amounts of money every year through poorly negotiated software contracts (some deliberate and some through ignorance).
Based on a need analysis earlier this year which was conducted by the State Department of ICT & Innovation, two key mitigation steps are at an advanced stage to cure this menace: first, all major software used in Government of Kenya have been quantified and a framework contracting is being finalised to allow for direct contracting with the main vendors. Two, we have also identified areas where our local developers can play in the provision of software solutions to the government at reasonable costs.
5. Data prices in Kenya are among the highest in the region. With the advent of fibre optic cable, the cost of transporting data has reduced because of the infinite capacity and less Opex as compared to the Microwave Transmission. What is your ministry doing to bring down the prices?
Brian Githinji, Nyeri
On the contrary, from our quick analysis, data prices in Kenya are relatively low compared to other countries within East Africa region. The Average PAYG rate in Kenya is Sh4 per MB, the average for Uganda mobile operators is Sh22.40, average for Rwanda is Sh6.44 per MB while the average for Tanzania is Sh6.33 per MB. The current challenge of having a clear measure is the fact that different mobile operators provide different bundle prices in which case if one is in bundle or out of bundle the prices differ.
That said, my ministry is reviewing several documents that govern the management of ICT in the country that include the National ICT Policy, The National ICT Masterplan, The Spectrum Policy, and the National Broadband Strategy. As we review, we will discuss how to make broadband affordable to Kenyans.
6. In the run up to August 8 elections you were on record threatening to shut down any media house that was to announce election results from their independent tallying system. Don’t you feel this remark was an infringement on Article 34(2)(a) of the Constitution, which shields media houses from State interference?
Andrew Maranga Ratemo, Malindi
Prior to August 8, 2017, my statement was as follows “Media houses can tally results from the IEBC. The source of the results can only be the IEBC as they are the only constitutionally mandated institution to run the election. What they cannot do is come up with their own results from other sources other than the IEBC.” Allowing multiple broadcasters to announce whatever figures from unverified sources is a recipe for chaos. It can lead to unnecessary anxiety and anarchy and in the process subvert the democratic will of the people.
As the country approached the 2017 General Elections, I took the liberty to remind broadcasters and indeed members of the public of their obligations in respect to the responsible use of broadcasting platforms. My remarks did not infringe on the freedom of the press and freedom of expression. In this era of fake news, the media must guard against transmission and publication of misleading information especially during this election period by adhering to professional standards.
7. Sir, on one hand Kenya is highly rated in as far as ICT penetration is concerned in Africa. But on the other hand, we also happen to be the victims of this very ICT as demonstrated by the nullification of the presidential election by the Supreme Court. We were told that this ICT is the one that let us down. What is your take on this?
Francis Njuguna, Kibichoi
This is a political question that is not fact based. Technology was clearly not the problem. The Supreme Court ruled that some IEBC processes and procedures had a problem. The court did not find any of their officers or the system to be at fault.
8 The ICT function is not yet fully devolved and it is a matter of great concern that counties have set up skeletal ICT departments which are extremely underfunded without even requisite personnel and even office space to operate from. What policy measures do you hope to build capacities of our counties in ICT application, absorption and development?
Dan Murugu, Nakuru
Dan, please be reassured that the ICT Authority has been working closely with counties since inception. We set up a forum for County Executive Committee Members responsible for the ICT docket for awareness creation and planning and also supported them in the development of County ICT Strategic Plans with funding from the World Bank. Recently counties have taken a great interest in the idea of setting of Constituency Innovation Hubs.
My ministry coordinated well with counties during the rollout of the Digital Literacy Programme. I also assure you that ICT is a national function and my Ministry and its agencies are actively involved in developing standards, creating awareness and free advisory services for counties. There will be teething problems and high-level ICT capacity is at a premium everywhere in the world but all is not lost in the Counties.
9. What is the status of the Kenya National Spatial Data Infrastructure and why is Kenya not operating on the cutting edge of geospatial technology?
Dominic Njue, Nairobi
Dominic, you are right. Geospatial technology and Geospatial data is critical to the implementation of modern ICT systems. The Kenya National Spatial Data Infrastructure is a Vision 2030 project under the environment, water and sanitation sector. My Ministry’s contribution to the project is mainly by supporting the digitisation of records and creation of databases. The project is currently ongoing. Power connection at the centre has been completed and geodetic reference points (pillars) have been constructed in Kwale, Wundanyi, Bondo and Koibatek.
Tenders for acquisition of satellite imagery have been opened, creation of the Nairobi database is complete, creation of Kiambu and Mombasa databases is ongoing.
10. What was your intention in barring media houses from announcing independent tallies as announced by presiding officers? Do you regret making that remark threatening to close down media houses since presidential election was after all nullified?
Emmanuel B. Siundu, Nairobi
As I responded to Andrew, I do not regret my remarks as my emphasis was on the fact that anyone that broadcasts results other than those announced by IEBC will be committing an illegality.
11. The government seems to heighten its focus on use of ICT in teaching and learning. What opportunities are there that will demand postgraduate studies by teachers?
Gitau Mûirûri, Kandara
Using ICT for post graduate studies by teachers offers several opportunities that include among others, gain an understanding of the potential of ICTs to enhance student learning; including using applications and adaptive technologies to support students with special needs; learn how to effectively use ICT applications to support specific syllabus outcomes, content and processes; learn the appropriate use of ICT by the teachers themselves and students including in relation to plagiarism, copyright, censorship and privacy; develop capacity to critically evaluate, retrieve, manipulate and manage the information from sources such as the Internet, CDs, DVDs and other commercial programs; responsible and successful use of social networks and communication including email, forums, chat and list services.
12. You have always stood out as an exceptional ICT guru especially in your previous engagements in the sector. But in the run-up to the August elections, your proclamations were viewed by many to be a departure towards sacrificing this professionalism for political expediency. What is your take on this?
Komen Moris, Eldoret
I stand for truth and facts. My role is to serve and protect Kenyans and clearly my pronouncements were based on law and regulations as described above not politics.
13. Through the NYS, Kenyans lost billions after IFMIS was manipulated. During the August General Elections, issues arose from the KIEMS leading to annulment of presidential election. It is said that any technology can only be as good as the individual using it. In our case, it seems we put the cart before the horse. Sir, how can we redeem ourselves from this since we have been a leader in a number of innovations in this sector?
Komen Moris, Eldoret
It is important for us to build HR capacity in the use of technology. In addition, installation of robust and resilient ICT system is paramount in ensuring external forces do not compromise these systems. The Ministry of ICT will work with other relevant government agencies and the private sector to provide robust and resilient ICT systems across the whole government. As indicated earlier, we are enacting laws and implementing various programmes that will safeguard our position as a leader in ICT.
14. The worldwide wannacry attack that occurred in May 2017 should be a wakeup call for the ICT ministry and the government in general to ensure that all computer networks within Kenyan borders are protected from such attacks. What has the cabinet secretary done to ensure that computer networks in Kenya and Kenya networks hosted in other jurisdictions are not vulnerable to cyber-attacks?
Albert Mwenda, Nairobi
The government is alert to any threats on Kenya’s cyberspace and has heightened its cyber monitoring and surveillance mechanisms. As mandated in the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998, the Communications Authority under the Ministry of ICT has established a National Computer Incidents Response Team (KE-CIRT) to proactively monitor and mitigate against cyber threats.
These efforts among others ensure that government computer systems, networks and information are secured. KE-CIRT has partnered with other stakeholders locally, regionally and internationally to identify such malwares as soon as they occur and communicate to the ICT industry and general users to protect their systems from such attacks. Once enacted, the Computer and Cyber Crimes laws are also expected to deter offenders.
15. Does the government have an inventory of softwares and hardwares across ministries and government agencies to be able to track and patch vulnerabilities?
Albert Mwenda, Nairobi
The Ministry of ICT provides technical expertise and input to all government ministries and agencies during the acquisition of management information systems including software and hardware. Efforts are ongoing to streamline records of all acquisitions to enhance efficiency in any required ICT restorations, upgrades, disposal, data recovery and even complete overhaul of systems. The ICT Authority, our implementing agency, is currently undertaking this work.
16.Your ministry was tasked by President Uhuru Kenyatta to spearhead the rolling out of the Free School Tablets Programme in line with the Jubilee manifesto of 2013 to promote digital learning in all primary schools in Kenya. How will this be fully implemented now that the government is also proposing to introduce free secondary education all over the country starting next year? What guarantees can you give that there is adequate funding and technical support for each of these for them to achieve the desired goals?
Dan Murugu, Nakuru
In alignment with Kenya’s Vision 2030, the government of Kenya is committed in preparing our children for a smart society by designing programs and developing projects aimed at strategically positioning the young generation to compete fairly and equally with their peers globally. It is for this reason that we initiated the Digital Literacy Program (DLP) which is focused on tapping IT innovative potential of children in their formative age.
The DLP programme aims at integrating advanced forms of digital learning and teaching solutions in all our public primary schools.
The DLP program is not a one-off initiative, it is a continuous exercise that facilitates access to devices in all public primary schools, trains teachers and ensures availability of digital content countrywide.
To date, we have made significant progress having received over 101 per cent of the devices while we await some from the two local assembly plants that are operational at JKUAT and Moi University.
This is expected to ensure local transfer of knowledge to our country and also grow the local ecosystem.
Through the programme, over 95,000 teachers have been trained and digital content is now available and being used for classes one, two and three on the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) educational cloud.
It is worth noting that some parents are taking advantage of this opportunity to be trained and this supports Kenya’s growth into a digital nation.