The Year 2015 in Review: What Did We Achieve?

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Another year has come and gone! And, while we prepare to embrace a new one, we must pause and reflect on those achievements made in the most recent one. In doing so, we are able to identify tasks that we have achieved successfully, tasks that need to be revisited and new tasks for the New Year.

At the beginning of 2015, I mentioned that the New Year (2015) would be a year of progress. Indeed, the year has been one of progress and the sector continues to progress. The year saw the nation tackle many of the obstacles (unwillingness to view ICT as a major driver of economic development, the lack of infrastructure, lack of skilled personnel, and our unwillingness to change), that have been hindering ICT development in the country. These obstacles which still exist, bring about a “digital exclusion” which negatively impacts economic development. Fortunately, developments in mobile technology, open source software, broadband cloud computing and the social media have equipped us with the “tools” to tackle the forces that lead to “digital exclusion”. How we adopt, embrace, and utilize these “tools” to our advantage is what determines the growth or decline of our ICT sector.

The past months saw considerable improvement in the use of ICTs in Liberia, both in and outside of government. We saw Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions (MACs) of the Government of Liberia (GoL) take on initiatives for operational efficiency, effective service delivery and reduced cost, using ICTs as the enabler. For example, we saw the National Bureau of Concession deploy a National Concession Information Management System (CIMS) that enables it manage concessions in Liberia. We saw the Governance Commission revamp its infrastructure enhancing operational efficiency and building its capacity to use ICT for the achievement of good governance in Liberia.

We also saw the dedication of our Internet Exchange Point (IXP), an initiative that will increase the affordability and quality of the Internet for local communities. On the other hand, discussions on the handling of the .LR ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domain) were held during the period in review. Significant progress has been made in expediting this initiative.

I only mentioned a few MACs in the paragraph above but almost every MAC in Liberia made some kind of stride in incorporating ICTs to build their capacity in order to provide services to “customers of public administration” (Citizens, businesses, other government entities, and government employees). When speaking of government institutions providing services to “customers of public administration” using ICTs (especially the Internet), we are talking about electronic government or e-Government. While its official e-government strategy is pending endorsement, much work is being done to achieve a robust e-government program capable of bringing a paradigm shift in the way it (GoL) delivers services to its citizens and businesses.

The GoL’s e-government program began a few years ago and since then a lot has been achieved. For example, the CIMS at the National Bureau of Concessions, the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMIS) at the Ministry of Finance, the automated passport system at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Health Information Systems at the Ministry of Health, and the new procurement system at the Public Procurement and Concessions Commission (PPCC) (which will lead to an e-Procurement system), are part of Government’s e-government programs.

At the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the Project Management Office (PMO), a unit established within the Ministry through a mandate by the National Telecommunications and ICT Policy 2010-2015, completed the first phase of the development of the national e-government portal. The e-government portal development project’s goal was to develop a one-stop shop that allows citizens, businesses, government and government employees to have access to information and an ecosystem of eServices through a single window. Phase I also known as “Web
Presence” according to the Gartner Group Open Government Maturity Model, involves putting online MACs’ information, forms and the procedures involved in obtaining services they (MACs) provide.

The online delivery of services to citizens cannot be done in the absence of a secure ICT infrastructure. Hence, the need for a national data center and a secure Government network (GovNet). The Government of Liberia with assistance from USAID has decided to deploy a Shared Services Center (SSC) which will allow services to be shared by all MACs. In addition, the deployment of a secure Government network by LIBTELCO (national operator) is in the pipeline. LIBTELCO has also been working on the deployment of aerial fiber optic network to further enhance access to broadband by both the GoL and others.

Apart from building their internal ICT infrastructures many of the GoL’s MACs have gone online giving citizens and businesses an optional medium to access services that they (MACs) provide. This further increases our web presence which is expected to be guided by an e-government website strategy developed by USAID, and an e-government website policy being developed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

We also saw the end of the National Telecommunications and ICT 2010-2015 policy which guided the ICT sector since 2010. The revision of this policy has begun and is being led by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, the head of the ICT sector and ICT policy maker of Liberia.

As a way to ensure Universal Access, there has been several discussions and feasibility studies that will lead to the deployment of a national backbone, which will then allow access to the underserved and un-served communities. Google, which has been very “resourceful” in Africa, has been part of these discussions along with USAID, the World Bank, et al.

We also saw strides made in human resource development during the past few months. ICT institutions of learning have begun offering robust ICT training programs aimed at developing the skills of today’s and tomorrow’s ICT leaders. Many of our higher institutions of learning have also
begun integrating technology in their curricula while maintaining ICT programs. Moreover, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications and LIBTELCO, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education have begun a project that will put internet-connected computers in all public schools in Liberia.

Despite the progress made thus far, our ICT sector continues to face several challenges preventing it from leveraging all available assets. Some of these challenges include the lack political will to integrate ICT in our society as has been done in Rwanda, the lack of adequate budgetary allotment for ICT, the lack of skilled ICT staff, but most of all, the lack of a national ICT Champion.

Finally, there were many other developments that occurred in the ICT sector in 2015, all of which have impacted other sectors of the nation. I know I have neglected to mention quite a few, but this was not intentional. Hopefully, as time goes on, they will be mentioned in future articles.

But for now, we can say we have made great strides in the sector. We look to the year 2016 for many great things as we strive to improve our ICT sector.

Until next week, CARPE DIEM!

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