Uganda e-government dream: Not enough staff

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Uganda Government’s ambition to mainstream ICT in its operations and to leverage ICT to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery through the use of e-government services is failing as the proportion of ICT personnel is still very low.

A national IT survey 2017/18 report released last week shows that within government ministries, agencies and governments or MDAs, ICT personnel account for only 1.9% of the total workforce up from 1.6% in 2012/13.

There is also a gender bias among ICT personnel with 31.2% female vs. 68.8% male, as well as increased specialization in key areas like IT security and user experience design.

The Uganda Government has prioritized ICT among the priority sectors to drive economic development and the push towards the attainment of middle-income status.

Although all MDAs have Internet access and possess various computing devices, the proportion of employees that routinely use computers is just over one-third of the total MDA workforce, while the proportion that routinely uses the Internet is less than a quarter, the report says.

The low levels of routine use are a result of MDAs owning few computers, procuring insufficient Internet bandwidth to serve all employees, poor internal network infrastructure and the lack of adequate ICT skills and knowledge among employees that would enable them to effectively use computers and the Internet.

Other challenges that compound these problems are aging IT equipment and insufficient budgetary allocations for IT as well the high cost of the Internet and insufficient bandwidth which are major obstacles to wider use of the Internet for MDA work.

NITA-U is the primary Internet Service Provider (ISP) for MDAs in Uganda, covering 83.1% of MDAs. Two-thirds of MDAs (66.2%) report that they restrict access to particular websites, primarily as a mechanism to manage bandwidth.

Key informants reported that the cost of 1 Mbps/month was higher in Uganda than in other countries in the region, in Europe or the US. Nonetheless, the cost has been progressively falling: for instance, the average cost of 1 Mbps/month from NITA-U is US$ 70, down from US$600 in 2014.

MDAs have embraced the use of digital platforms to provide government services with half of them (50.7%) offering e-Government services via the web, 19.5% via SMS and 13% using mobile applications.

In addition, 61% of MDAs plan to implement new e-Government services in the next five years. However, the government needs to create more awareness and encourage the new use of e-Government services.

The report recommends that Government working through the Ministry of ICT and its Agencies including NITA-U needs to design strategies to improve the level of IT skills and knowledge among its workers.

This may entail developing of a government-wide IT training and skills development programme that equips government staff with basic digital literacy skills on a regular basis to keep them abreast of the rapidly changing trends in the use of IT. Beyond this, the programme can also offer training in other critical areas like information security awareness.

The Uganda government should also recognize that it is in competition both nationally and globally for competent ICT staff and come up with strategies to recruit, develop and retain staff with key ICT skills.

This may involve implementing in consultation with the Ministry of Public Service to create a government-wide ICT Career Structure that includes training and development programs for ICT personnel in key skills areas.

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