The Need To Empower the Chief Information Office(r)-RL (CIO-RL)
By: Dr. Darren Wilkins
Over the years, we have been striving to achieve a robust e-government program, that seeks not only to benefit the Government of Liberia or GoL, but also the citizens and residents of Liberia. There have been a plethora of challenges that seem to be hindering our efforts to achieve this goal. The lack of resources both human and financial, the lack of infrastructure and the “absence” of political will, are a few of the many challenges that have been strangulating our efforts to achieve our goal. Despite these challenges, significant progress has been made, even though the impact of such progress may not have been felt by the Government and the people of Liberia as we had anticipated. It is safe to say that the impact was not felt because of the absence of an effective “e-Government Champion”; a “champion” with “carte blanche” to make decisions at the senior level. This “champion” would be a person who reports directly to the Office of President of Liberia, thereby giving him/her the much needed authority to drive the GoL’s e-government programs. This article attempts to make the case for a strong e-government “champion” for the achievement of a robust e-government program.
For the benefit of those who have little or no knowledge of e-government, e-government or electronic government is an idea raised by former U.S. Vice President (Al Gore). The then Vice President Gore’s vision was to link all departments and agencies of the US Government to enable them provide information and services to US citizens and residents in an automated way, thereby reducing cost, improving performance, and delivering services faster.
There are several definitions of e-Government among practitioners, researchers, et al, but all of them agree to a single definition that e-Government is a government’s use of information communication technologies (ICTs) to deliver information and services to its citizens, businesses, and employees/agencies. The United Nations’ website defines e-government as: “the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) – such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing – by government agencies”. The World Bank on the other hand defines e-Government as “the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government”. Since the focus of this article is the Chief Information Office(r) or CIO, I shall remain within the confines of that “focus”. In a subsequent article I shall discuss e-Government in depth.
A few years ago, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Liberia’s e-Government program with focus on the E-Liberia project. The E-Liberia project was a World Bank initiative that was subsequently turned over to the GoL through the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. This project suffered serious setbacks because the Ministry did not have the human, financial and technical resources required to sustain it. In my dissertation I used my experience working as the manager of the E-Liberia Project Management Office to delineate some of the challenges facing our e-Government initiatives. I listed some of the challenges as the lack of trained staff and training opportunities; the lack of technology infrastructure and the lack of political will. The lack of political will in this case specifically referred to the GoL’s inability to prioritize ICTs and empower the CIO regime even though it had national mandate.
Enshrined in the National ICT and Telecommunications Policy 2010-2015 is a mandate for a CIO regime that would govern the GoL’s e-government programs. Within that same Policy was another mandate for the formation of a Project Management Office (PMO), which would serve as the implementing arm of the Government’s e-government programs. In addition to the now “outdated” National ICT and Telecommunication Policy 2010-2015, there exists a “draft” E-Government Strategy that proffers 26 e-Government projects including e-Health, e-Procurement, e-Commerce, etc. Unfortunately, that “draft” E-Government Strategy never made it to the cabinet for approval; the very reason why it is still referred to as “draft”.
The CIO regime, which was initiated to govern the GoL’s e-government programs, did not have the carte blanche and capacity to implement its mandate. Since it was “buried” within the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications where the Chief Information Officer had to report to the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, who also was the only person from that entity with a seat at cabinet meetings, the CIO regime suffered several setbacks. The setbacks occurred because ICTs were never advocated for, nor were they made a priority at cabinet level. Methinks more focus was placed on Posts than ICTs at cabinet level. The absence of an ICT or e-government “Champion” at cabinet level is primarily the reason for what seems to be the gradual demise of CIO regime and GoL’s e-government programs. Regrettably, this has also affected the entire ICT sector.
A New Government and a new Sheriff have come to town. What should we do? Reinvent the wheel? Or build on what has been achieved? I would aim for the latter if I had the opportunity. The “New” Government has proffered a “Pro-Poor” agenda. This means we have to provide innovative solutions and approaches using existing “tools” to achieve the GoL’s e-government goals. It also means that we must put our differences aside and channel our collective IQ and energy into a refreshed mission, in order to achieve the long awaited electronic government. For this to work, though, the “Political Will” and support need to be given to the CIO and the CIO regime. The CIO should be the “Champion” for e-government. This “Champion” will need to report directly to the Office of the President as compared to the current structure. A “champion” who is a “direct” report to the President will force heads of institutions to adhere to the e-government strategy rather than build siloed ICT systems at their institutions.
Finally, e-government seeks to achieve greater efficiency in government, reduce cost and provide better and faster services for the people. Using online interactive services such as online petitioning, paying taxes online, registering a business, obtaining a driver’s license or birth certificate via a click of the mouse, etc, are but few of the services e-government aims to offer. Our “new” government now has the opportunity to pick up from where the old regime left off, correct the mistakes made by the previous regime, and move towards achieving a robust e-government program. Let’s first start by re-organizing and supporting the CIO regime. The most important thing to do now is to change the reporting structure to empower the CIO to do his/her work.
Until next week, Carpe diem!