Now We Must Design and Implement An E-Government Plan that Draws from the “Draft E-Government Strategy 2016-2018”.
By: Dr. Darren Wilkins ([email protected]| Phone: 0886703789/0777129092)
A few days ago, I listened to the President as he launched the mobile tax payment system developed by the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA). I was very impressed with his definition of e-government, (specifically, e-revenue). More importantly, I have been impressed and very happy about the tone in which he speaks regarding the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) for sustainable development. From the way he handled his phone at the event, you could tell that the President is a “gadget person” and someone who has tremendous love for technology. It is clear that the President is a fan of ICT, hence, I am not going to dwell on that. But what I have chosen to discuss today, is his obvious “embrace” and support for electronic government or E-Government.
President Weah referred to e-Government as the use of ICTs by governments to deliver services to the people. He was clear and absolutely concise about the impact of e-Government on the people! With such a clear definition and strong support, the path has been set for the implementation of a full e-government program; something we’ve been working to achieve for many years. And, since the Government of Liberia has adopted a pro-poor agenda, we must, to quote President Weah, “use our resources wisely”. Indeed, we have made strides in the ICT sector that are “resources” that could be used wisely to achieve the President’s agenda.
In a previous article I mentioned that one of the many achievements made in our ICT and Telecommunications sector over the past 10 years is the development of legal and regulatory instruments to guide the deployment and use of ICT in Liberia. I listed these instruments as: The Telecommunications Act of 2007, the National ICT and Telecommunications Policy 2010-2015, the .Gov.Lr policy, the “Draft E-Government Strategy, E-Government Web Strategy document, the E-Government Enterprise Architecture document, etc. I know of all these documents because I co-authored a few of them.
To further help the President achieve his goals through e-Government we must begin with a plan. This plan must draw from previous policy and regulatory documents and works done. For example, the plan must incorporate the Chief Information Office (CIO) and the CIO regime which, combined, are responsible for e-Government.
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 (CIO) had national mandate.
Enshrined in the National ICT and Telecommunications Policy 2010-2015 is a mandate for the creation of 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 the cabinet for approval; the very reason why it is still referred to as “draft”.
The CIO regime which was initiated to govern the Government of Liberia’s (GoL’s) e-government programs did/does 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. This means we must all channel our collective IQ and energy into a refreshed mission, in order to achieve the much desired “e-government”. For this to work though, support must 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.
Another thing that should be part of the plan is the alignment of new ICT projects with policies developed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (the Policy Maker). This, not only supports our effort to achieve a robust e-government ecosystem, but also impacts the Government’s pro-poor agenda. Anything otherwise, would lead to a waste of financial resources; something Government already lacks.
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!