By Dr. Darren Wilkins ([email protected] | Phone: 0886703789/0777129092
For the past 18 years I have advocated, studied/researched, written, worked, sacrificed to see our COUNTRY turn into a “KNOWLEDGE SOCIETY; AN INFORMATION SOCIETY; but most of all, A DIGITAL LIBERIA. Achieving any of what I just mentioned requires BRIDGING the glaring and unfortunate DIGITAL DIVIDE that exists in Liberia. During those 18 years, I have come to learn that there is a tendency of certain individuals or firms to retrogress strides made in our ICT sector by intentionally ignoring policies set by the Government through the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. This usually happens when a new regime (change of heads of institutions or government) takes over, where families and friends of new heads often persuade them (new heads) to award contracts or work that literally “RE-INVENTS the WHEEL” In “re-inventing the wheel” the policies and regulations of the sector are often advertently ignored. Another instance of this is when a new regime that lacks familiarity with initiatives of previous regimes takes over. Both lead to a waste of tax papers’ money, donor funding, and what is now known as donor fatigue in the sector. In today’s article, I discuss the need to align ALL ICT projects with the GoL ICT policies to ensure that we achieve President Weah’s Pro-Poor Agenda in an effective and efficient way. Hopefully, all stakeholders will take note of this as we move forward.
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 and Telecommunications in Liberia. Without these “instruments”, the sector would be in total “chaos”. A few of these legal and regulatory “instruments” include: 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. Some of these “instruments” were developed by and paid for by donor funding. Taking this into consideration, I would assume that donors would not be happy nor be willing in the future, to provide funding for an “initiative” they know they have already paid for.
Aligning new ICT projects with policies developed by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (the Policy Maker and Head of the ICT Sector), 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. An example of this is when a new head takes over and decides to use his/her web presence as a medium to market his/her priorities/plans/projects, etc. Instead contacting the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications for guidance, he/she hires a contractor who then builds the entity’s website in a way that does not conform or is totally non-compliant with the policies and regulations guiding the GoL e-Government program.
One of the most ubiquitous ways of being non-compliant is by developing a website for a GoL ministry, agency or commission (MAC) and registering it under a .COM, .NET, etc, domain, when all GoL institutions/MACs should carry the .GOV.LR domain name (For example: www.MoFA.Gov.Lr -Ministry of Foreign Affairs’website). The .GOV.LR domain name was set up to give Liberia its identity on the World Wide Web. To ensure the use of this domain name by GoL institutions, the .Gov.Lr Policy was developed (see copy on www.emansion.gov.lr). In a nutshell, the .gov.lr domain should be used by all Ministries, Agencies and Commissions (MACs) to support the implementation of a robust e-government platform that can deliver services and information to the people. Developing websites that do not conform to the guidelines or policies of the GoL simply to “get paid” is selfish and unfair to the people of Liberia.
Another approach that further retrogresses the strides made by previous regimes is the development and deployment of new systems that perform the same functions or give the same results as the ones developed by previous regimes. This usually happens when the new regime does not understand or has little information on what was done in the past. Let’s keep in mind that in a Pro-Poor Government, “re-inventing the wheels” is an unnecessary waste of resources, especially when those who developed or deployed such systems are still around to help or provide guidance.
We should build on what we have and leverage the existing resources (Human, Technical and Financial), to achieve our e-Government goals which also has a significant impact on the Pro-Poor agenda of our new President. We must identify innovative ways, utilize our collective genius, and apply austerity measures that can ensure that Government provides services using ICTs to ALL of its people, especially the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. We cannot afford to start all over, especially in areas where we know we have made progress.
Finally, we have a major challenge to develop policies, regulations, and solutions that ensure that ICTs benefits the poor, marginalized and vulnerable class of our nation. Access to ICT is the main benefit to the groups mentioned above. Hence, the term “Pro-Poor ICT Access”. Providing Pro-Poor ICT access involves the use of ICTs to resolve concrete problems of everyday life by the poor, marginalized and vulnerable. Faced with the glaring digital divide in Liberia, we cannot afford to retrogress strides made by past regimes by ignoring policies already set by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications. Instead, we should build on them (policies, systems, solutions), or improve them to achieve the pro-poor agenda.