Khama explains E-Government initiatives
By John Churu, Gaborone, Botswana
The President of the Republic of Botswana, President Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama, gave his State of the Nation Address and a lot of practitioners in the ICT sector waited for their share of information on the state of affairs in the ICT sector. According to the President, the government had surpassed its expectations in providing modern technologies in many ways than one.
Khama explained that “since 2008 there has been an explosion in the use of ICT by Batswana, with domestic internet subscriptions, mostly on mobile devices, rising from just over 250 thousand at the end of 2011 to nearly 1 million by August 2013, meaning that at least half of our citizens are now active online. Given this transformation Government recognises the need to accelerate the rollout of e-Government through expanded online services.”
Efforts were made by the government to curtail some very long queues in most government departments. Said Khama: “Concern about long queues for some services provided through ICT systems such as Civil and National Registration as well as Transport Permits and Drivers licenses are being addressed, while Births and Deaths registration system has been stabilized, with the backlog of certificates being drastically reduced. As a way of ensuring that all births and deaths are registered at the earliest possible time, on-site Births and Deaths registration centres continue to be rolled out to cover all hospitals.”
He also explained that further computerisation of critical functions of Civil and National Registration was at development stage. “The Project aims at automating the critical functions of Civil and National Registration and linking them to other systems. One of the objectives is to introduce a more secure electronic identity card (e-id) for authentication and facilitation of public e-services.”
In relation to BOCRA, the President said: “As part of our overarching commitment to rationalise parastatals, the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) was formed in April 2013 as a converged regulator overseeing telecommunications, Internet and associated online technologies, broadcasting, and postal services.”
He said further progress has been achieved in separation of assets and the privatisation of BTC. “This exercise has so far resulted in the formation of two companies being the Botswana Fibre Networks (BoFiNet), responsible for managing wholesale services, and Botswana Telecommunications Limited, for retail services.”
Government efforts also saw the reduction of internet charges all made possible courtesy of new technologies. “With the completion of the West African submarine cable system (WACS), at a cost of over P 300 million (USD 37.5 million), in addition to the East African cable (EASSy), wholesale internet tariffs have been reduced by up to 59%, with resulting retail price reductions, a trend which should continue.
To further improve our global competitiveness, our licensing framework is being adjusted to introduce a new license category for wholesale operators to facilitate competition and innovation. We have further developed a National Broadband Strategy to facilitate universal access to high capacity communications infrastructure.”
He said efforts continue to be made to ensure that communities are provided with access to communications services. “The Nteletsa-I resuscitation project was completed in March 2013. This initiative brought mobile voice, data and internet connectivity to some 177 villages. To further benefit from the existing Nteletsa infrastructure we are retooling the Kitsong Centres by introducing more products to improve their utilisation.”
To further connect the nation, free internet facilities are being provided at 39 public libraries and village reading rooms, while another 33 are to be connected through wireless technology. With the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation some 45,000 members of the public have also been trained in basic computer skills through the Sesigo e-public libraries project. In addition, nine libraries have been completed through our partnership with the Robert and Sara Rothschild Family Foundation, while two more libraries are scheduled for completion at Gweta and Nata by April 2014.
In order to address the issue of long queues at its front offices, the Department of Road Transport and Safety has joined hands with Botswana Post to provide renewal of vehicle licenses at all the 122 post offices. “Government is currently negotiating with Botswana Post to offer additional services such as the online renewal of vehicle licenses.”
Accordingly, Khama said his government remains committed to enhancing an enabling environment for business.
“Progress in our efforts was most recently reflected in our improved ranking in the annual IFC/World Bank ‘Doing Business Index’, where we moved up 11 places since last year to 56 in the world out of 189. In this regard, the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Doing Business and Global Competitiveness has been busy overseeing a number of initiatives.
These include: Introduction of e-Government legislation, such as the e-Communication and Transactions Bill, the Data Protection Bill and the e-Evidence Bill; Establishment of Regulatory Impact Assessment system, Commencement of routine inspections by Local Authorities three months prior to expiry of trading licenses; Establishing an online system for name search and registration, Introduction of an integrated taxpayer management system Introduction of e-filing and e-payment system, Implementation of the Point Based System to attract and retain skilled expatriates, while ensuring local skills transfer; and Amendment of the Town and Country Planning Act to facilitate the decentralisation of the Planning Board’s functions to Councils so as to reduce delays in the approval of planning and building permits.”