The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity for governments to regain credibility. This is according to Mindaugas Glodas, CEO at NRD Companies, a global IT and consulting group of companies specializing in governance and economic digital infrastructure.
In an interview with BizTech Africa this week, Glodas noted that a recent study showed that while confidence in governments has been generally falling over the last decade, it has now risen to a record-high with 65% of people from around the world putting their trust in governments to be in charge of fighting off the virus.
Glodas also emphasised that now is the best time to harness the power of government technology (GovTech) an effort to digitize the public sector by employing innovative technological solutions to strengthen the relationship between the government and the public.
“The pandemic has given more than enough room for governments to employ technology to help the people,” Glodas said. “While prior to the crisis governments were not as focused on employing GovTech to solve societal problems as they are now, the pandemic has emphasized the necessity of technological solutions. Governments must recognize the importance of this moment, step up, and showcase the people the benefits GovTech brings to the table.”
He added that GovTech solutions that have proven to be vital during the pandemic include unique digital Ids, which are stepping stone for innovation and improving public services.
“For example, Samoa, collaborating with NRD Companies, has been working towards introducing an accessible and highly secure identity management system, which has helped support the economic recovery and serve as a foundation for a digital government platform,” he said.
Ability to identify citizens
Glodas noted that, similar to the rest of the world, different African countries have different approaches to GovTech. “Those that already had functional GovTech systems in place prior to the pandemic benefited greatly when they needed to treat sick people and service those that were confined at home,” he said.
However, those governments that did not have digital IDs and e-services platforms available were forced to stop vital processes that cost lives and stalled economic growth, he said.
The the fundamental feature of any successful digital government is the ability to identify its citizens online, he said. Unfortunately, when it comes to digital ID, sub-Saharan Africa is still behind the curve, as most of the one billion people today lacking unique ID are in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Nevertheless, there have been many campaigns and efforts to bring about changes and ensure that every person is counted and given a unique ID. Achieving identification for all would not only mean a better life for citizens, which includes access to education, legal employment, healthcare, but also improve the business environment and spur economic growth,” he said.
Africa’s infrastructure issues
Glodas said that the main difference between the global and African experiences in terms of GovTech and managing the pandemic is in infrastructure integrity. In Africa, we can find decent standalone solutions, but to have a well-functioning digital government, you need advanced, all-encompassing platforms like GxP, he said. Such systems help data flow smoothly between different institutions, increase access to e-services, and are highly flexible, he said.
“During the pandemic, we have seen many cases where a governmental institution has all the infrastructure necessary to provide e-services, but face significant delays when interacting with other institutions to obtain the necessary information. Only a whole-of-government approach can solve interoperability issues and ensure a timely provision of e-services,” he said.
Glodas highlighted some African countries which are using GovTech effectively: “ Mauritius, Uganda, and Rwanda are those that come to mind first. These countries have very ambitious plans to move public services online and some of them have already achieved great success,” he said.
He added that the World Bank has ranked Mauritius 13th in its latest Ease of Doing Business rankings, while Rwanda is 38th. “These results indicate a strong and healthy business environment, which is virtually impossible to achieve without a functioning digital government,” he said.
Uganda is also moving towards digitization as it has recently announced a digital plan aimed at streamlining microfinance supervision and regulation processes for Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority, he said.
Glodas said these countries stand out for him because, first and foremost, they employ a systemic approach when developing governmental IT systems. Also, some of them have a well-functioning coordinating institution, such as the National Information Technology Authority in Uganda.
Africa’s adoption of unique digital IDs
Glodas noted that the adoption of unique digital IDs in Africa is still behind the curve. “It varies by country, but in general it often fails due to a lack of proper approach towards civil registration. Once civil registration is managed properly, only then can digital ID systems be introduced,” he said.
Glodas suggested that there is definitely an incentive for governments to adopt GovTech solutions because of the impact and lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, only small steps have been taken to move forward with GovTech solutions. “In many cases, the best thing to do is to step back, look at the existing digital infrastructure, and determine the direction a country should head. To do this, independent audits can be very helpful, bringing valuable insights from more experienced partners, he said.
The fact that an increasing number of governments are making great strides towards digitization makes me extremely optimistic about this region, he said. “Every year African countries are getting more open to digital initiatives, demonstrating to their people and the world that the continent is ready to make the digital transformation,” he concluded.