In this last edition of the Uganda News Review, Mark Keith Muhumuza takes a look at the technology projects that are slowly but surely changing the face of government in Uganda – as presented at eLearning Africa 2014’s session, “Local Initiatives: Current ICT Projects from Uganda”
Piles of manila files are a common scene in Ugandan public services, in the hospitals, land offices and tax collection bureaux. This has in past been responsible for delaying delivery of services.
Change is now on the way, with some agencies adopting technological innovations. The most successful to date is the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) which adopted the e-tax register in 2010. At the 9th eLearning Africa Conference hosted by the Government of Uganda, URA’s assistant commissioner for domestic taxes, William Kiganda, told delegates that they have seen remarkable improvements in collection efficiency since e-tax was launched.
He also noted that most companies are now filing returns online and that they have reduced the time that taxpayers spend at the URA physical office.
The Government has now made it mandatory for all its employees to acquire Tax Identification Numbers (TINs).
Other agencies and ministries are also making strides in this area. Dr Eddie Mukoyo, a Commissioner in the Ministry of Health, told delegates that he has overseen the introduction of a Health Management Information System, which is being used to map the availability of health services and workers across the country. This initiative has been replicated in the Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Lands.
Uganda runs a decentralised system where local governments implement central programmes. Local government councils also draft their working budgets for the financial year with funds provided by the central Government – directed by the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development. Francis Okori, an assistant commissioner in the Ministry of Local Government pointed out that they have Monitoring and Evaluation Management Information, which is used to get all “information on service delivery” around the country.
Additionally, the Ministry of Lands has set up an electronic system to manage the land registry. The registry has been dogged with delays in processing land titles, poor mapping of the country and an office heavily reliant on paperwork.
The Land information Management System, according to the Richard Oput, a Commissioner in the Lands Ministry, reduces the time spent searching for information on land in the greater Kampala area down to “1 to 5 working days; registration of mortgages to banks is now also much faster.”
Not all is well
In the land registry however, challenges still occur. Acquiring land titles is still a slow process, unless one is a commercial bank or real estate company. For individuals, it still takes a while to acquire one. The Lands Ministry also admits this, saying that for now the electronic system is a “short-term intervention” in a wider problem.
Uganda also faces infrastructure gaps, like poor access to good roads and electricity in some areas. To maintain such eGovernment projects, access to roads, electricity and Internet need to available for local governments and to the majority of Ugandans. Statistics from the ITU indicate Internet penetration in Uganda at about 5m users in a population of 35m people.
Most of the commissioners admitted that limited infrastructure is hampering access to the new information systems. For instance, health service delivery still remains poor in rural Uganda. Absentee health workers are a problem often talked about. Shortage of medicine and manpower still exists. People still travel long distances to access healthcare.
More troubling still, “there is a lack of interface by the various Information Management Systems, which leads to data duplication,” admits Francis Okori from the Ministry of Local Government. He says that in implementing these systems, Government agencies and ministries need to interact much more than they are doing at the moment, if at all.
The sustainability of online management systems has also been questioned, considering that most are donor funded. If donors were to pull out, they would most likely close down.
It is an issue that Dr Eddie Mukoyo from the Ministry of Health is concerned about. “There must be country ownership of the projects and they must be Government led. Government should take charge of eHealth initiatives. All initiatives must be aligned with Government needs and they should be within our resource envelope,” he said.
Donor funds are also targeted to specific areas, with Ministries having no option but to adhere to their allocation. This causes a sustainability challenge once the donors are gone and also leads to inefficiency and the duplicating of roles.
“There is haphazard teaching and learning as a result uncoordinated ICT integration projects from funding bodies,” says Annet Mugisha Kajura, a Commissioner in the Ministry of Education and Sports.
Education still far behind
eLearning also continues to face its own unique challenges. A change in the curriculum to add ICT studies at secondary level came at a time when Uganda still lacked teachers who can specifically teach ICT. Kajura says what Uganda has are “technocrats” who know what to do but can’t pass on the knowledge effectively to “teachers of teachers” in colleges responsible for educating future teachers.
“The teachers are only being taught the basics,” she admits. “They learn how to turn a computer on and off, and using Microsoft Word. However, what they’re not being taught is how to make use of ICT to make their teaching better.”