E-Government: A Myth, A Fantasy, Another Lie From Zim Government

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“The first rule of any technology used is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency, the second rule is that automation applied to an in-efficient operation will magnify the in-efficiency”

By Ashley Chimhanda

August 2011 saw His Excellency, President Mugabe successfully launching the e-government programme and saying that the government was working towards ensuring improvement of efficiency in the public service and also computerization of all government departments. He said implementation of the e-government programme will provide convenient online services and bring government services closer to the people. He also noted that the e-government will also improve communication between government and citizens.

Nonetheless, I spent the past few weeks burning the candle on both ends trying to access several government sites and also trying to assess whether there had been any improvement in the efficiency of the public service, only to be disappointed and I regretted even using my internet bundles for that and not for Facebook.

An e-government Blueprint entitled “Zimconnect: E-Government Framework and Implementation Strategy (2011 – 2015)” was produced and adopted in October 2010 and this blueprint was aimed at providing clear direction, strategy and focus on the implementation of the e-government but trying to download or at least read this document online was not possible which even increased my doubt on the efforts being put by the government in order to get ‘closer to their people’ when they are not giving us the information that they say is guiding us to a more efficient Zimbabwe.

Just to enlighten to those who might not be on the same wave-length with me, an e-government or Electronic Government is the delivery of more convenient, customer-oriented and cost effective public services and sharing of information through electronic media. Specifically, e-Government harnesses information and communication technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government.

In the wake of a global recession, just about everyone is looking for ways to cut costs and personally I believe this e-government ghost is a necessary way to accomplish this for governments. In the past, it was more citizens themselves pushing for the use of technology but now most governments are catching on and stepping up, so there is a developing ecosystem of governments and citizens working together but that does not seem to be the case for us Zimbabweans. In the pantheon of precious resources, time is at the top of the heap, you can’t create it nor store it, and it’s perfectly perishable yet on this sorry side of the world we don’t seem to mind.

Thinking of taking a passport is only one of the nightmares that most Zimbabweans would not want to hear of. Being one of the most basic needs for an average human thing, a passport should be fairly easy to apply for and collect but for an ‘ordinary Zimbabwean’ it might take about 8 or more hours for the whole application process and you can imagine, if these people who work at the passport offices serve about 1000 employees a day, that amounts to about 8 000 hours which is almost equivalent to a year of ‘potential manpower output’ lost daily and in the end who loses?

It’s us the nation, yet this whole process can be done in less than 30 minutes online. It’s only recent that the passport office started sending sms notifications if your passport is ready, which is only a very tiny piece of the puzzle to try and interact with us citizens considering they started rattling about this e-government thing more than five years ago.

Asking my colleague from a WhatsApp techies group, he was blunt enough to say ‘an e-government doesn’t exist in Zimbabwe, the reason why I say so is there’s virtually no free-flow of electronic information from the government to us or in between government departments…’ which is very true because most data is duplicated when dealing with the government, the same information is needed for almost everything you apply for yet they can simply share this across departments by using MySQL database which I learnt of in my first year in College.

As one writer said “In a community where there is no communication between the citizenry and the state, both exhibit lack of trust in each other and engage in activities that are meant to protect and promote personal gain at the expense of national interest!” Because of this lack of transparency and information, instead of the whole nation benefiting, only the workers involved in the systems and the corrupt heads who manipulate the system are the only ones who pocket from it.

Corrupt government officials also benefit since there is no proper accountability of funds or employees hence scandals like the Salarygate Scandal and the issue of the ‘ghost-employees.’ Our government does not seem to realize that the internet is so big, so powerful that for some people it can be a complete substitute for life. We should try to make the government more like the internet, ‘more participatory, user-driven and efficient.’

Empowered citizens can and will make a difference, and the government can take full advantage of those same citizens to change the way they work from the inside out. The easiest and least expensive way for the government to operate is to harness technology and communicate with its citizens in the same way that we the citizens communicate with our friends and family.

This work has to be done, folks are so apathetic and don’t participate because they don’t get the positive feedback that their contribution is meaningful or makes a difference. By leveraging the latest technology we are taking the friction out of civic engagement.

Our mission is complete when we have sufficiently moved the needle on the folks taking leadership roles in our beloved Zimbabwe and when our technology divisions have been given the noticeable significance they merit in government because keeping abreast with technology needs continuous improvements.

For all the progress we have made in the last years, we are still a long way from getting the most out of what we have wrought. Whether this whole e-government thing is a myth or not, we as the citizens will only start appreciating it when we have seen some effort being directed towards alleviation of the queuing system and reduction in processing times at the major birth, death, national identity and passport collection centers, pension offices, among others.

Ashley Chimhanda is the ICT Director of Midlands State University Enactus Chapter. He is reading for a BSc Computer Information Systems Degree. His obsession for technology and computers is tantamount to a religious zeal. For comments and feedback feel free to write him at [email protected]