By Watchdog reporter
Information and Communication Minister frank Tumwebaze has called upon government and the public sector to turn Uganda into an e-country.
Mr Tumwebaze who was addressing an inaugural stakeholders’ dialogue at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala told the meeting of government officers, media, telecom players, innovators, developers and bloggers that Uganda’s ICT ranking globally has dropped from the 143rd position out of 190 countries ranked in 2012 to 156thout of 193 countries ranked in 2014.
“This statistic calls for adoption of rigorous sector innovations, agile implementation of best IT practices and matching ICT enabling policies. We must not only talk about e-government but we must be an e-government,” he said.
He said he is setting his sights to making Uganda join Africa’s too six ICT leaders.
“Our midterm strategic objective is to join Africa’s top six ICT leaders that is, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt,” said Mr Tumwebaze.
Ladies and gentlemen;
I greet and welcome you all to this maiden stakeholder engagement and media briefing for the ICT and government communication sector.
It is not in doubt that ICT advancements have been at the centre of a transformation on how governments and private sector operate and its role in revolutionizing the efficiency, convenience, and effectiveness with which governments and private sector serve their people and customers respectively.
My thoughts about the ICT sector are just evolving and will continue to evolve through regular engagements like this one. Since ICT is a dynamic Industry with technological innovations getting borne day by day, it’s imperative for governments to keep reviewing their policy instruments for the sector. It’s therefore, my intention to continue having dialogues of this nature with stakeholders and broader sector players to keep up-to-date with emerging trends so as to correctly inform relevant sectoral Policies.
What I would like however to note from the onset, is that according to United Nations e-Government Survey, our global rankings as a country in regard to the uptake of IT innovations/services is still not good.
Our ranking globally has dropped from the 143rd position out of 190 countries ranked in 2012 to 156thout of 193 countries ranked in 2014. From a continental angle, Uganda’s ranking dropped by six (6) positions down from position 20 in 2012 to position 26 in 2014. This statistic calls for adoption of rigorous sector innovations, agile implementation of best IT practices and matching ICT enabling policies. We must not only talk about e-government but we must be an e-government. Government officials must take the lead and break walls of old technologies. Our midterm strategic objective is to join Africa’s top six ICT leaders that is, Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, Tunisia and Egypt.
Today, I will share with you some ideas I have for the Sector, hear from you and as well clarify on what may be necessary even when this conversation and engagement is just starting.
Streamlining Government communication
By merging the Ministries of ICT and National guidance, H.E the President appreciated the need for government to communicate factually and timely – enabled by the robust ICT infrastructure. Government agencies will have as a matter of priority to adopt the available technologies in addition to the conventional ones in order to communicate what services they are offering to the citizenry.
My ministry will work with other government ministries, agencies/departments (MDAs) to build capacity in effective communication, research and content dissemination. When government communicates factually and timely, citizen demand for the available services will be stimulated since they will know what to ask for, where, how and when. It also fosters accountability and empowers the citizens to monitor the delivery of public services with capacity to query both the quality and quantity of services offered. This is indeed the foundation of open government.
While criticism against the government in power is healthy and indeed part of the communication we are emphasizing, narratives that seek to brand our mother country Uganda wrongly and frame it with sensational and conflated images, should not only be seen as unpatriotic schemes of enemies but should be confronted and opposed by all. This duty is not only for us in and leading government. It’s for all of us as citizens. If we accept the story of our country’s heritage and its super natural gifts to be wrongly told, or glossed over, then we all lose, irrespective of the political beliefs we share. And this is where the role of media as impartial umpires comes into serious play. The altercations of the various political contenders not withstanding- and as you moderate those political arguments in your news platforms, do so jealously guarding the image of Uganda. Let always the story of Uganda’s uniqueness and progress stand out prominently. Let the journalists, reporters and editors without any prompting of state regulation develop a patriotic culture of being able to discern always what can hurt the image of Uganda. Don’t be used to amplify and regurgitate anti-Uganda narratives by selfish and irresponsible people, be it politicians or otherwise. If for example you claim and report with a screaming headline that there is war in Uganda well aware that there isn’t, just know that you are hurting millions of our jobs. Just know that operators of tourism lodges will suffer booking cancellations and make refunds, airlines and tour companies will close, remittances will slow down, the economy generally will stagnate if not decline etc etc. It’s a matter of citizen livelihood. Therefore, this is a matter I would like to continue having a honest conversation with you media Practitioners. Let us together evolve an acceptable code of responsible reporting about our own country, while at the same time not compromising a free press that continues to hold government accountable on its promises.
To you the media colleagues, I pledge engagement. We shall always be there to tell our story and listen to those who don’t believe in what we do. I call upon you to give us equal media space. If you give a full page to an article of my critic, then do the same to my rebuttal. If you give a minute to a sound byte of my critic do the same to my rebuttal news byte such that your clients receive a balanced menu. Don’t deliberately make government look bad as if we can’t justify our actions by denying equal space to government messages. This is all I ask of you and it’s what I propose to define our principled relations.
On the other hand, I am aware that many government departments, officials and leaders are always reluctant to share information with the Press thus allowing speculation and misinformation to thrive. My message to fellow government leaders some of which are represented here by their respective sector spokespersons is that; if you don’t tell your story, someone else on your behalf will tell it the wrong the way. We are in an information age and therefore government departments must mainstream content gathering and dissemination in their day to day official business using all available communication platforms. It is also important that when any official of government is to communicate, let him/her do so factually.
The goal of the Ministry of ICT and National guidance therefore, will be to regularly and consistently keep Ugandans accurately, promptly and responsibly informed through a combination of traditional, digital and social media forms, in a well-coordinated manner, in order to project the very best image of Uganda both internally and to the outside world.
We will also provide a central point of feedback for the Public through a citizen call centre that we shall soon unveil to the public as part of government initiatives to promote citizen interaction.
ICT as a driver and enabler of National development
1. Affordable Internet
Internet is no longer just a luxury or an option for the few modern elite. It’s a basic necessity just like other utilities of electricity and water are. The commitment of government is to continue investing in all initiatives that will substantially scale up the internet infrastructure coverage and also make it universal and affordable for all.
The investment in the NBI was a very wise one since it managed to bring down the cost of internet from USD 1,200 to USD 300 per Mbps per month. This however needs to further be pushed down, and increase its penetration across the country so as to enable young ICT innovators to grow their businesses. Internet also must be fully subsidized for Universities and Research Institutions. Global studies show that the impact of an increase of 10% internet penetration results into an increase in the GDP ranging from 0.25%- 1.38%. Internet is as a good enabler to ICT innovators and young IT graduates getting jobs, and improving service delivery as electricity is to manufacturers. With the digital revolution, most of the big infrastructure projects we are undertaking as a Country like SGR, Oil pipeline, Industrial Parks etc., will require internet backbone installations. Lowering the cost of internet therefore, will not only help ICT innovations but also spur investment growth of e-services (e.g. mobile money, e-wallet, pay way and their attendant functions) and grow jobs.
2. Sharing of ICT infrastructure
When we develop ICT infrastructure at a high cost, efforts to make IT services universal and affordable get inhibited. I therefore would like to pause one question to some of you ICT experts dealing in the business of internet provision and to you the telecom operators. Why don’t we think and discuss about sharing internet infrastructure as some known countries are doing for the sake of reducing heavy investment costs that finally end up being pushed to the consumer? If government has invested in the backbone infrastructure and is continuing to scale it up to the last point of a sub county in the medium term and eventually to a village in the long term, why should telecoms also invest in the same infrastructure and put the burden on the consumer? Why not share? What would be the purpose then of the huge investment of government? What is the problem here? I stand to be informed and educated on this; otherwise I find it a challenge to our dream of rolling out affordable and universal e-services.
Other issues that I would like this dialogue to take note of and discuss if time allows include; Non-uniform inter-network charges both for voice and data. Why should I as a customer be charged higher fees when I am sending money from one network to another, and calling as well?
- Supporting ICT Innovations;
H.E the President has been consistently advocating for science innovations and also prioritized resources in the budget to support these innovations like the Kiira vehicle, Banana project among others. Many of you however looked at this science innovation fund as to be restricted to agro, bio and chemical science innovations. The good news I have today for you ICT innovators is that; government has allowed to as well cover and support ICT innovations under this science fund with all the necessary capacity in terms of incubating projects and patent protection among others. What is therefore required urgently from both you the ICT innovators of the various hubs, academic institutions AND the ministry of ICT is to agree on the criteria framework about the standards and potential of the innovations to be supported.
I however think that for any innovation to be supported it must demonstrate capacity to grow jobs and provide innovative solutions to the implementation of e-government. After further consultations, I will put up a committee/taskforce composed of experts to advise on the framework of this support.
I would also like to appeal to you telecoms and other ICT firms to always support locally generated innovations or what is commonly referred to as local content. Do not outsource what can be sourced internally.
Finally, I would like to thank all of you for finding time to attend this maiden dialogue. In particular, I thank the Ministry of ICT and our agencies especially UCC for organizing this maiden dialogue. We will continue to have it periodically to take the conversation forward and provide feedback to each other on matters each player will have committed to.
Thank you for listening to me. I look forward to a fruitful dialogue.
Frank Tumwebaze (MP)
MINISTER OF ICT AND NATIONAL GUIDANCE