Looking at the key budget lines for the ICT ministry reveals that ICT as a driver or an enabler of government services still has some long way to go before achieving its optimal impact.
Whereas the usual suspects – Digital Literacy Program (Laptop Project) and Konza Technocity – got their huge amounts of Sh11.9 billion and Sh8.3 billion, respectively, very little in the ICT budget speaks to the softer agenda of ICT as an enabler.
The ICT ministry budget has over the years been heavy on procuring hardware and software resources, but this has never quite translated into the desired outcome – in terms of acting as the core engine for delivering government services.
One possible reason for this could be that ICT procurement has been scattered and disjointed across different ministries such that there is no synergy and instead one finds a lot of friction in executing a single ICT strategy for the whole government.
As an attempt to cure this, the Treasury minister says in his 2018 Budget speech:
We have also consolidated all ICT equipment and licensing expenditure under the Ministry of ICT in order to facilitate better coordination of government ICT strategy and eliminate duplication.
Whereas the intention is noble, implementation is likely to be a nightmare, because most ministries and state departments would prefer to keep oversight of their ICT budgets within their domain, rather than surrender it to another ministry.
Furthermore, even if the implementation details were ironed out, very few ministers would like the idea of consulting another minister each time they want to procure hardware or software for their departments.
In short, the policy statement on consolidating all government ICT expenditure under the ICT ministry is likely to run into strong winds and it will be interesting to see how it plays out in practice.
Perhaps a better approach would have been to separate the strategic, high-level ministerial duties of the ICT minister, from the equally strategic duties of ensuring that the internal digital government systems are synchronised in order to be effective in delivering the desired value.
The second role would be better off handled by a government chief information officer (CIO), who would ideally be domiciled under the Cabinet Office or Office of the President.
Indeed, this was the initial structure during the better part of the Kibaki regime, but it backfired simply because the office of the e-Government Secretariat, as it was known, lacked the budgetary allocations for implementing systems across government.
Ten years later, we seem to have finally secured the budgetary allocations for e-Government, but this is likely to create turf wars between ministries by placing purchases under one ministry.
There seems to be only one solution to this puzzle. Create the office of the chief information officer, domiciled at the Cabinet level and in charge of all ICT budgets related to automating government services.
This would pre-empt inevitable turf wars regarding ICT expenditure across ministries, because ICT budgets and projects would be centrally managed under the Office of the President.
This seems to be the global practice in some countries and most enterprises, where CIOs report to the CEO in order to have a seamless overview of all departments in ICT matters while avoiding budgetary turf wars that would otherwise arise between departments.
Any other alternative arrangement is likely to be less effective and highly resisted, directly or indirectly, by the departments concerned.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu