By Nasubo Ongoma|
We live in a digital age where most services are online, one tweet could change your life (examples). The government is not left behind and is actively using the internet to reach out to its citizens. iHub as part of the ICT4Democracy East Africanetwork, is undertaking a research project to assess government responsiveness on the ICT tools launched. Data collection is currently being carried out in Nairobi, Nakuru, Mombasa and Kisumu with key informants from the government (national and county), civic society and software developers, armed with this quest, we set out to Nakuru county. It is worth mentioning that it is campaign season, with the uncertainty of the return of the incumbent governor, we reached out to the staff of the ministry of ICT in the county, but they did not show. We are still trying to get an interview with them.
We had 4 focus group discussions, each with 4-6 participants and two interviews from government representatives, with each discussion taking approximately taking 1.5 hours. The participants used mobile phones, computers and tablets, at their places of work and home, to access government services. Majorly, the mobile phone is usually the first option whenever they need to access the internet, and only use computers/tablets when in the office. E-government platforms, used were; Ecitizen, iTax, Delivery, MyGovand the Nakuru County Website. These tools were mostly used as the need arises, for example, when renewing their license, filing tax returns, querying government projects. Below is a summary of the findings.
With the recent massive global cyberattack1, participants questioned the rationale of going fully online. Several participants noted that there is a benefit to preserving some offline functionalities to ensure security and verification. However, others noted that unless the government invests sufficient resources (both knowledge and infrastructure), it would be difficult to maintain a fully online service delivery system that is both safe and effective.
Cost of Access
To utilise e-government services requires that a majority of citizens go online. Without equipment, know-how and the high cost of broadband, it becomes an unattainable task. Some of the participants noted that subsidizing the cost of devices and broadband could encourage more people to stay connected. One example worth noting is slashing of taxes by the then finance minister Hon Amos Kimunya, zero-rated duty on all motorcycles below 250cc2, that led to the increase in motorcycle sales. That if there is also a zero-rated duty on internet enabled phones, would truly transform Kenyan into a digital nation.
Public Access Initiatives
Nakuru’s Bilawaya initiative launched in 2014, with the promise of getting more people online, but more that two years down the line, it has not benefited the public. Participants noted that only two access points, Afraha Stadium and around the County offices, is one able to connect. One participant noted, although the initiative had the potential to bring more people online, it was not very well thought of, e.g., no seating arrangement. The participants instead lauded the county government for the digital centres, which are rooms with computers connected to the internet set to be launched in Kuresoi and Subukia in Nakuru County. This could be replicated nationwide, even in county offices to bring more people online.
It was noted initiatives such as the launch of Huduma has made service delivery easier, however it is equally important to take these services to the rural community.
On Government ICT services
Participants noted that these services have lowered the cost incurred (transportation and inconvenience from long queues) when seeking the services. One popular testimony cited was renewing the driver’s license. However, from time to time, finishing tasks alone was difficult, the most common example, transfer of vehicle ownership, uploading one’s logbook was not possible and on visiting the KRA offices, they were directed to cyber cafes close by where they have to pay 2000 for this upload.
One important observation was on the user interface of some services, that it is challenging for Wanjiku to know how to use the site. One recommendation was to add explanations on the sites.
One participant noted that government services work well when you pay for them, that the ones you do not pay for majorly do not work.
Hot Takes / Recommendations from participants
That it is the employ of the government to provide the platform to be used and educate the citizens on its use. That educating the public on e-government services should not only be limited to the younger generation, but also identify ways to bring on board the older folks.
To go fully digital requires the government to employ digital natives to handle citizen requests, which is an investment that the government should be willing and ready to invest in, for instance, setting up a team with their mandate being responsiveness.
Borrow a leaf from Corporates
The participants noted that the government should copy corporate culture of the private sector, notably Safaricom, on how they handle customers’ requests. That there should also be performance evaluations of staff handling citizen requests.
That technology has brought accountability and openness and has enabled citizens to know who the perpetrator of corruption are.
That there should be reminders to citizens on penalties accrued and not to wait until the citizen requires that particular service.
In as much as the government wants to go online, they still insist on hand-delivery of hard copies after uploading the software copies. In some instances, they do not accept soft copies.
“Online is cheap, but inconsistent”
“For an instant response, visit the government office”
The bottom line is each of us has a role to play, the government, to ensure great services are offered in line with their ICT strategy and citizens, the Wanjiku, to use the services and demand for action when they do not work.
The next phase of the study will be carried out in Kisumu, Mombasa and Nairobi.
Our study on Government Responsiveness on ICT tools launched is made possible by the generous support of SIDA.
*Please note: These are not all or the official findings of our study. The final report, which will be made available will contain comprehensive findings from our study from three counties.