Kenya ICT Masterplan to be launched tomorrow

The Kenya ICT Board is set to launh Kenya’s four year ICT master plan. It projects that by 2017:

  1. Every citizen, resident, home and institution will be connected through a countrywide robust, accessible and affordable ICT infrastructure.
  2. Kenya will become the leading ICT HUB in Africa attracting leading global players and generating globally respected local entrepreneurship and innovation.
  3. Public Services will be available to all citizens through ICT and ICT will enable a truly open and efficient Government delivering meaningful value to citizens.
  4. Kenya will be a Knowledge Based Economy. All Kenyans will be able to use ICT to improve their knowledge, businesses and livelihood. ICT will contribute greatly to Kenya’s economic growth.

I am sure we have heard such lofty plans of where we will be in four, five, ten thirty years and it is great to have such projections but I have an issue with the opening statement on page five:

“Access to information is a basic human right that every citizen should have and every Government is obliged to deliver. It is vital for the efficient delivery of public services as well as capacity creation in the private sector industries, which are responsive to the needs of citizens and businesses.”

Has Kenya decided that access to information is a human right? Well, I am sure water and energy provisions are basic human rights in Kenya but we all know how the story goes. But this is a good thing for the tech industry, it means we can demand access to ICT services at lower rates, because its a basic right, that even those living on a dollar a day can access.

During the ITU International Telecommunication Treaty negotiations in December, one of the contentious issues was “access to information as a human right” some governments- majority Arab nations thought that ICT had nothing to do with human rights and that rights were taken care of in other treaties. The west and the sympathisers had alternative views and that is why the ITU meeting was still born, its didn’t go beyond paragraph one, the West could smell defeat and they bolted.

Kenya had originally taken the “Africa position” which was aligned with the Arab nations but Bitange Ndemo, PS in the InfoCom ministry changed all that by taking the more progressive side, which the West had also  taken and the ensuing problems between the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) and the PS were unfortunate.

So, the admission that Access is a basic right in Kenya settles some of those problems and sort of proves that the CCK was misplaced in its support of certain treaty clauses.

Back to the master plan…

The document promises real economic growth, I wonder if there is anything like fake economic growth. It also promises all those lofty things that come with economic growth, employment, business growth etc….

It sounds like what the board said about the BPO industry….. five years later, no one wants to talk about BPO, people want to talk about things that are more successful like software development, ICT hubs, co-working spaces, etc.

There is this part:

“We are strengthening governance and increasing engagement with Government and with Private Sector to remove barriers that would impede execution.”

Then there is this one:

“This plan centers on the needs of the citizen to ensure all efforts are designed to address those needs and truly deliver a society built on knowledge.”

Now, I am at odds with those two statements. I will borrow heavily from Phares @kaboro who the other day educated me on the process it takes to set up a limited liability company, have a lawyer sort out the shareholders agreement, to make sure no one swindles the other and to make sure that the company starts off nicely. In Kenya, this whole process with cost dearly and that is before you start looking for office space. In Texas, which is the most expensive in the US, this process takes $300 approx. ksh. 25,000.

So, if the ICT Board was serious about the two statements and making sure that they resonate with people like Kaboro, the next statement should have been that they are in negotiations with the Law Society of Kenya, KEPSA, KAM, etc, to make sure that the bottlenecks that hinder business now are sorted, not six years to come, now.

By the way, when I asked a lawyer about a limited liability company, he took a pen and paper and as soon as the figure hit ksh 200,000 I took the easiest option but then that means that the company can not do business with certain governmental bodies that require limited liability company. I am sure many of us know that there are various types of liability company structures 🙂 A normal company registration can cost you as little as 25k and can go to unlimited levels depending on lawyer, if you need agreements to be done, that lawyer to review your initial agreements with landlord, client etc. A company limited by guarantee, which is what most NGOs opt for, costs you about 200k because statutory deductions are higher, has to go to NSIS for vetting etc, then you can add the other shareholder stuff. But that can be well discussed in another post 🙂

But we can all be consoled:

“Earlier drafts of the plan were validated globally in the USA, UK, Singapore, and South Africa among other countries and learnings incorporated. Beyond this a local citizen engagement exercise was carried out over a period of one month and feedback incorporated. All this was done to ensure that every possible input would be considered to enable delivery of a holistic plan.”

I am not sure whether @kaboro attended these sessions to give his views, but we can assume that we will be on the development path, just like the countries that the master plan benchmarked with. I am sure that the big businesses have their challenges too but for tech start ups, Kaboro hits a fundamental note.

The study talks about Konza Tech City and all the goodies that come with it and the several pillars through which the plan will be implemented. Here are some of the objectives:

The key objectives Connected Kenya Master Plan will meet include:

  • Driving creativity and enabling innovation among businesses and individuals
  • Connecting businesses, individuals and communities and giving them the ability to harness resources and
    capabilities across geographies through Digital Inclusion
  • Becoming the conduit for Kenya to be an exporter of Technological Innovation

In meeting the Master Plan objectives, Connected Kenya Master Plan will drive the following focal areas: 

  • Formulation of Policy for the Development of ICT Infrastructure
  • Promotion of Equity in the Provision of ICT in Kenya
  • Development of Film and Information Content towards the Creative Economy
  • Contribution to making Kenya a Middle Level Economy through IT Enabled Services
  • Improvement of Universal Access to ICT Services
  • Facilitation of Development of Skilled Human Resources for the ICT Sector
  • Dissemination of information to the public

 

Paul Kukubo, CEO, ICT Board

The team that worked on the master plan have done a good job, the lay out and the photos are great, but the content leaves me feeling like it is all that I have heard Paul Kukubo and company at the ICT board say in the last five years. The team at the the ICT board knows the sector well, and with resident experts from Accenture and Dalberg among other international ICT consultants, I would not expect anything less.

The document hits all the right notes, if you are a new comer, but if you have been in the industry and listened to how Kenya would overtake Singapore, Mauritius, South Africa, India and the famous South Korea, this is routine stuff.

By the way, tech experts should lay off the South Korea vs Kenya in 1969 analogy, its embarrassing.

Maybe the master plan wasn’t meant for me, and maybe it will be argued that the plan is meant to guide not do but for once, can’t we just do and then plan and regulate later. The over used Mpesa comes to mind, product was developed, used and government had to think of ways to regulate.

I would be more interested if the board facilitated techies to access government data, even dummy data, to test services instead of planning how to. I was at the iHub the other day and listened to a developer narrating how he had gone to the registry of persons, seeking identity card data, even of dead people to test and it was rejected, the developer even asked for dummy data but by the time you get there, the registry can just as well ask you to come up with your random data.

The ICT board is good, get me right, it has made some people rich with grants that are not strictly monitored, some people took the grants and skipped town while others had their dreams come true but after five years, don’t tell me that out of thousands of companies started out in Silicon valley and only a few made it, do something.

Tandaa grants started in 2008

A good plan it might be, but I want some of the simple services, like a search on the companies registry website, I did this article a while ago and today I did a search and no much help either, do we need a plan to fix such basic services? If you fix the search for company names, it will help ease congestion and time will be used for more innovation 🙂

 

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Part Two: ICT Board response to companies registry project

When I wrote the piece on 2010 completion of digitization and automation at companies registry, there was a lot of response, some emotional some not, I have just selected few that illustrate the depth of responses.

Some took issue with 3Mice and the connection to Paul Kukubo, CEO ICT Board, I didnt care much who did it, the question was whether it functions or not. Will copy paste Paul’s response, after Dorcas Muthoni’s.

After all was said and done, 3Mice said the project was completed in 2007, that they can not speak about it now, that another company was given the tender or is in the process, etc.

Yes, the project was given in 2007, what was the use of giving search functionalities on the site, if the search doesn’t work? Dorcas posed the question:

So, what was the purpose of these menu options
when you worked on the GJLOS project in 2006 or 2007.
I am not sure 3Mice has any interest in commenting on the subject, they have moved on, because apparently after handing over, that is it.
This was Paul’s response:
Dorcas/listers

I am not on this forum in my capacity as a shareholder in 3mice. In any case this is duly declared. What I will do is give a general perspective about how website development as I have experienced it.
we tend to see many website projects where once the original deployment is done, there is no contractual engagement on maintenance. Often times the team approach of the original website agency is lost when the site is left to just one technical maintenance chap within the website owner organization. Too much emphasis on getting the original website well designed, little emphasis on keeping it well maintained.
I have now come to appreciate that with the public sector, in particular, the challenge may be with the budgeting process and procurement process. We certainly face the same challenges at the ICT Board with our own website maintainance.  Ideally one  needs to retain a team who can maintain both design  and technology aspects as technology evolves. Some companies do it well other struggle and therefore certain design aspects struggle.
Website development has generally been seen as a simple low cost end of the technology business. This is changing as this discussion thread indicates. How is it that Facebook is worth 100Bn USD?
Asante
Paul Kukubo
CEO.

Andrea Bohnstedt responded to Paul

Thanks for the clarification, Paul.

The online company registry struck me as a particularly useful idea, so I was baffled by the fact that a contract carried out in 2007 yielded such a seemingly useless website. So what I’d like to know – and maybe this is for more people than just Paul to answer since this wasn’t all done by the ICT Board, if I understand correctly:

If this ‘simple website’ was contracted out in 2007, was there any awareness that the company registry records would not be available in digital format (since the contract to digitise the content is only being worked on now)? I.e. was a website contracted that would have no content for …. well, for how long? Why is a project structured this way in the first place?

When you say that another process is taking place now to search and display content, then this is a complete duplication, no? Any idea when this very-useful-if-it-works website will be up and running?

Thanks, Andrea

The info on digitization made me think of the companies registry at the UK, not right to compare but I thought I would just show where we are headed http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/

 

Background: Companies registry project

A week ago, I did a post on the companies registry project and how it had failed to yield expected results. You can read the post here. Read the comments section to get the reactions.

For some people, its easier to say that the piece was not well researched, its shallow, etc, which I have heard before. It prompted me to think of a blog policy where I will clearly state that if I give you the right of reply and you give shoddy, incomplete or arrogant answers, you waive the right to say that the piece wasn’t researched. If you wanted readers to have better information, you would have supplied it.

Back to the point. The whole story started in late March, and was triggered by an offer from @roomthinker aka M to finalize or redo the search function of the companies registry. The tweet was sent to @pkukubo and I will show his response.

According to @roomthinker, the search function is doable and the registry doesnt have to charge the usual shs 100 because it will be just a query to the database. I thought the ICT Board would jump at the offer but was made aware that government doesn’t work like that. If you are not IBM, Accenture, HSBSEC or some hotshot global body, you can keep your free services.

My argument was that @roomthinker was part of the team that won $ 1 million at the Nokia challenge and that should demonstrate that he understood the challenge and had possible solutions. I am not sure he got a cut of the million bucks but with the experience, we could benefit and milk his services, after all, he had offered 🙂

After @roomthinker’s offer, there was debate whether a company should write officially, talk to the right people or do what.

I must say that I didnt understand Kukubo’s comment, I wasnt sure whether he meant that M should help private sector registries first, whether he should identify problems and help govt integrate and solve them, or what. Here is my tweet to Paul:

I never got any other response from Kukubo on whether local techies can volunteer and provide services or only international firms can.

Then I called Kukubo wanting to know if the actual contract cost was sh 62m, he told me he had no info and that I should look on the ICT board website, I bet he had no idea that such info was non-existent on the site.

But on the site, I found valuable info and for the sake of those who comment without reading fully, this is what the info said:

The work of digitizing records at the company registry is now complete.

  • Customers shall have speedier searches and retrieval of their records.
  • Registering companies and names look up is faster.
  • Accuracy in records upped.
  • Name search is now automated and real-time. The benefits is no time wasted in the names search.
  • Elimination of potential duplication of records.

As a user of registry services, point no. 4 was more appealing, that search is now automated and real time and that I will not waste more time with manual search.

So, when you read the rejoinder, ask yourself, what is automation?

Dictionary.com defines automation as:

“the technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.”

Wikipedia defines it as:

Automation is the use of control systems and information technologies to reduce the need for human work in the production of goods and services. In the scope of industrialisation, automation is a step beyond mechanisation. Whereas mechanisation provides human operators with machinery to assist them with the muscular requirements of work, automation greatly decreases the need for human sensory and mental requirements as well. Automation plays an increasingly important role in the world economy and in daily experience.

If I still have to go to the companies registry, where is the automation? The article was merely informed by the ICT board definition of what completed digitization at the registry will allow me to do.

Part two, Kukubo’s response.

Companies registry project cost 62 million, cant even search….

In September 2010, ICT Board announced that the Companies registry had been automated. You can read the update on ICT Board website.

When I hear the word digitization, I think that the most basic functions will now be available at the click of a button. Well, if you go to the companies registry to incorporate a company, you have to search whether the name is already registered.

Lets search for one of the oldest company, Uchumi Limited, it is likely that there are several companies with the name Uchuni, like Uchumi chemicals etc…. see below what the site brings out.

A search of Uchumi limited yields a blank page

Maybe Uchumi is too old, let us try a younger company, Innova Limited 🙂

Innova limited search yields another blank

And who got the tender to do the website? 3Mice, one of the oldest tech companies in Kenya, they have been doing this kind of stuff for long and I would have expected better.

3mice branded the website as their work....

When researching for more information on the extent of the digitization, I remember the debate going on on twitter and the ICT board referred me to this page, which has the forms for download, but I want to search and pay via Mpesa for name reservation!

When I asked Paul Kukubo, ICT board CEO, how much was paid, he referred me to the ict.go.ke tender page and I could not get the tender and the amount. I was however reliably informed that the site cost Ksh. 62 million to develop or maybe it was part of a wider digitization process of scanning and putting the forms up for access especially with slow speeds etc…

The announcement was in 2010, you would expect that even in the case of hitches, they would have been patched up by now.

Well, I still want to do that basic search online before I can even access the forms…..