In one of the classes I teach at a local university, I asked my students to explain the role of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications or MoPT in Liberia. Out of 23 students, only ONE student was able to provide a response substantial enough to be considered the answer. Her response was: “In addition to handling postal activities of Liberia, the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications is the policy maker of the ICT sector. ICT here is an umbrella word for telecommunications, radio and TV broadcasting, etc.” The rest of the class responded with an “I don’t know” or that the Ministry is merely the “Post Office” of Liberia.
I find it very interesting how many Liberians between the ages of 18 to 45 do not know the role of the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications or many of the other ministries. Obviously, this is because people of this generation rarely use the post office; they email, Skype, or just do everything on Facebook. And it seems that many believe that the MoPT has been attenuated since the creation of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority. So, if that’s the case, why does this ministry exist? Why can’t it be changed to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry as I suggested in one of my previous articles? The answer to these questions will be left for another article. Today, I have decided to take an evenhanded approach to bringing light, in a more telling manner, to the “UNNOTICED” progress that has been made by a government institution.
I remember returning to Liberia a few years ago and seeing a Ministry as a refugee camp where dirt was thrown from upper level floors to the middle of the complex below. Today, the building is revamped, postal services have been rekindled, and mail boxes can be retrieved or bought, to name a few. But, there are few other things that one must give the administration and its staff additional credit for. Firstly, the Ministry’s Expedited Mail Services (EMS) now effectively delivers mail in FIVE working days and packages in EIGHT working days.
Secondly, the ministry’s regular mailing services work but I take the liberty to surmise that the plurality of mail being handled tend to be particularly international. Thirdly, within the premises of the Ministry you will also find, Western Union, Money Gram and an IB Bank depot, an added convenience and new experience for the customer. Most noticeable is the professional attitude of the staff; something you don’t find at other government agencies. In fact, the Ministry has a customer service desk to accommodate the needs of customers.
The Ministry should be credited for developing the country’s ICT policy giving us a roadmap and guide to achieving a modern ICT sector for national development. But reigning paradigms do need to be adjusted to reflect the changes of time, hence, the ICT policy may need to be updated soon. For example, the IT world now speaks of Cloud Computing, Open Source Software, Green Computing, Quantum Computing etc. What is our policy on these technologies? The corollary of failing to adjust to the changes of time is that economic, social, cultural, and political life suddenly becomes even more challenging. Our ICT sector needs to make with sufficient rapidity the sweeping, transformative choices it demands– a modern approach unshackled from the inconveniences of politics and corruption, the “metastasis” which plagues every nadir of our society and threatens development. We need policies that will transmogrify our ICT sector making it a more viable one.
In a country like Liberia encumbered by the lack of infrastructure, illiteracy, and several other challenges, demand for new capabilities and services is often best met by utilizing generation-leaping technologies (for example the development of open source software), a phenomenon that is helping to drive a large global craving for landmark technological innovation. I am not proposing a re-conceptualization of the current paradigms. And I am in no way attempting to co-opt the verve and urgency for a new ICT paradigm but rather my aim is only to create awareness in this realm.
In recent times, the Ministry in collaboration with the Civil Service Agency (CSA) of Liberia created the Chief Information Officer, Republic of Liberia (CIO) “regime”. Subsequently, the Ministry put up and advertisement for the CIO position at various government institutions. Personally, I had hoped to see COUNTY CIOs instead of CIOs of government institutions, since those institutions already have IT Director positions. A County CIO with mandate to champion ICT in his/her county would at the very least kindle a national approach to ICT integration in Liberia, I would assume.
Another development at the Ministry is the setting up of a Project Management Office within its premises. I understand this is done in collaboration with LTA via a WARCIP project being funded by the World Bank. I cannot give you details on this since I stopped following its developments for some time. But it is my hope that this initiative is successful.
While we acknowledge the achievements and progress being made at the MoPT, I personally still maintain, as I wrote in a previous article that this ministry should be changed to a Ministry of Science, Technology and Industry. Such a ministry will enable Liberians to become PROSUMERS and not just consumers. PROSUMERs are those who produce and consume what they produce. This approach could ignite a viable manufacturing industry and provide jobs for our youthful population and those who our educational system has failed.
This can be done without any significant personnel changes as the current minister, I have been told, has vast experience in industry and people familiar with his services to government have informed me that he made significant strides with regard to industry when he once served at the Ministry of Commerce.
Also, I strongly believe that an agency that champions ICT should be instituted where an “empowered” CIO becomes the head and bring some sanity to ICT in government in Liberia. A courier service that competes with the likes of DHL and FedEx could also be set up to handle “postal affairs”. And this “courier service” would embark upon 21st century approaches to delivering mail. That is creating a “digital post office” in rural areas, allowing our folks in those areas to be able to communicate with the families abroad, digitally. For example, set up a Digital Post Office that allows Ma Juah or others who can’t afford a camera phone, to send a photo of herself to her son in Sweden, who she hasn’t seen in years A low cost generator, at least five computers with scanners, printers, a low cost camera at each “Digital Post Office” could make this a reality!
All of what I have discussed in today’s article may not be all that the MoPT has achieved in recent times. In fact, I believe much of what they’ve accomplished has been omitted, inadvertently in this article. But I felt it necessary to write about this ministry today, simply because 22 out of 23 students could not tell me the role of the MoPT and many Liberians only know it for its postal services. I also believe it is one of the many UNSUNG institutions of Government. I hope this article provides new insight!
Until next week, Carpe diem!!