Is Ndemo the solution for the ICT stalemate?

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  • 6 years ago
  • Posted: October 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Since Bitange Ndemo was replaced as the PS in charge of ICT a number of things have gone wrong in Kenya’s ICT sector. These include lack of general progress in rolling out the master plan that was put in place by Mr. Ndemo, confusion in the deployment of projects like connecting all counties with fibre, LTE provision by the telecos, and the last mile connection project. The last time the ICT ministry talked about these they said they are looking at the modalities for bringing in the private sector on board to facilitate the projects but their is a need to first have a legal framework that this partnership can work under. The ministry argued for the lack of public-private sector partnership despite the existence of an Act of Parliament on Public Private sector partnership. So the real problem in the ICT sector has been pointed out as lack of leadership the Ndemo’s style that would see continual acceleration of progress in the sector.

As solution to the stalemate in the ICT sector, a number of tech enthusiasts including our own Chief Editor Kachwanya have called for  the reinstatement of Bitange Ndemo as the technical boss of the ICT Ministry.

But this call has reminded me about the late John Michuki. Immediately Mr. Michuki was appointed as the minister of roads, he went ahead to introduce a number of changes that brought sanity on the roads. One of those changes was the enforcement of speed limits to 80KPH, enforcement of safety belts for every passenger, reducing maximum passengers in “Nisan matatus” from 17 to 14, and the introduction of uniforms for matatu conductors and drivers. Then within no time Michuki was whisked out of the transport ministry to the ministry of environment. Weeks to the 2007 general elections, and as part of his election campaign strategy, Mr. Mwai Kibaki decided to allow the conductors and drivers not to use the uniforms terming them unnecessary and expensive. The president’s word were the accelerating energy needed to see the transport insanity reach the peaks it is currently at. The transport industry is still suffering from a leadership vacuum caused by the absence of the late Michuki and sadly he is never going to be back to bring sanity to the industry.

So it is true for the ICT sector. Mr. Bitange Ndemo is unlikely to come back into this sector anytime soon as he is firmly in the UON.

OK, fact is Michuki will never return to the transport ministry, and most probably Ndemo will never go back to the ICT sector. Does this mean the two ministries are doomed? Maybe yes.

If the transport ministry is doomed it is not because Michuki is dead neither is ICT doomed because Ndemo went to the UON. They are doomed because of 1. politics 2. inadequate systems

It is politics that saw Michuki leave the transport industry for environmental matters prematurely. Still, it is politics that saw someone without any level of interest in retaining and maintaining “Michuki rules” take over the transport sector. If it were not for political calculations, I doubt if Ndemo could have left the ICT sector given that he was one of the most performing PSs in the former government. Weren’t it for politics, whoever took over from Ndemo could have been a person with the same or almost the same level of understanding, appreciation, persuasion and passion for the continual growth of ICT following the same master plan, and if necessary, following the same master plan but with minimal adjustments where necessary.

The political stupidity that sacrifices competence for loyalty is what will cost the ICT and other technical sectors of the government stagnate in growth. Our systems especially political ones should be made to understand that there are areas in which loyalty does not have pay offs. For us to move away from reliance on individuals for development, we should not only change our political philosophy but also address the inadequacies in our systems. Up until now our systems have been compromised with tribalism, nepotism, friendship and loyalty to the extent that even when we have a legal requirement for competence and regional balance for government jobs we still give competence the last call but allocate jobs based on who can best serve the interests of the political kings.

To place the country on non-interrupted development agenda that will not depend on individuals to:

1. Borrow heavily from the private sector and Safaricom is an immediate example. When Michael Joseph’s term ended at Safaricom, a competitive recruitment mechanism was set in place that ended up in Bob Collymore taking over. There are two things about this type of hiring process that the public sector need to learn: 1. Bob Collymore is a person who was already familiar with the operations of the Vodafone and was privy to the goals and objectives Safaricom intended to achieve and 2. Before Bob completely took over from Michael, for quite sometime Michael offered mentorship to Bob on how best to run Safaricom. This mentorship, even though it never stopped Bob from adopting his own management philosophy that he dubbed Safaricom 2.0, has ensured that Bob overtake Michael in performance output if performance is strictly measured on profitability. The entire process that Safaricom adopted to hire a new CEO should be adopted by government institutions for hiring every individual whose sole objective is to ensure development inn whatever sectors they head.

I understand that currently the Principal Secretaries are hired competitively but the process is still prone to political influence. We know that there are some Principal Secretaries that were finally hired despite being rejects of the competitive process. Secondly, there is no time allocated for the former office holders to thoroughly train and mentor new comers into their respective offices. Lastly the criteria that someone must be thoroughly familiar with the current visions, aspirations, operations, and plans for the ministry or department is not given much weight. During the vetting process, we saw a number of Cabinet Ministers unable to provide clear cut plans that they ought to have had for the ministries they were to head. If government institutions and ministries were ran as private companies without relying too much on the political cards that must be played, then situations where performing Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, Parastatals MDs, and heads of departments were transferred, retired, or just fired on the grounds of political calculations could be unheard of.

2. Policies and master plans question. The systems seem to be very weak when it comes to the formulation, implementation and continuation of policies and master plans. It is really sickening to hear the ICT leadership is talking about overhauling the current ICT master plan that has helped the majority of the people affordably acquire ICT gadgets, the master plan that has seen the cost of Internet lower by more than 75% over the last decade, the master plan that wants to connect every corner of the country to the Internet, the master plan that has attracted a number of foreign investors choose Kenya as the most preferred country to put up ICT investments in. What problems, if I may ask, does the current crop of ICT leadership have with the master plan?. Could this be a case of poor policy formulation framework in which policies are not give much forethought to develop, implement and thereafter overhaul?

Policies should be formulated in a framework that somehow make them fool proof. That whenever new leadership wants to change them then they must have absolutely convincing reasons for implementing any overhauls or even minor changes. Probably it should be made a legal process to change policies and long term master plans such that a jury, a legal agency, or a body with similar status is duly convinced that the current policy or master plan is indeed worth changing. Such a policy and/or master plan must however have been formulated with a thorough understanding of the real development the sector in question truly needs.

To conclude I would say that it is our political and related systems that have led us to a situation where successes are solely the workings of individuals heading particular sectors at the time of success. This individual based success for a whole ministry and actually for a whole country cannot be guarantee our future as a nation. Our systems need to be changed such that there is a minimum level of success that is guaranteed despite the individuals at the helm institutions. That is, we should have a systems that ensures that the best and only the best head our institutions. Basically if Ndemo was to come back to the ICT sector, continue with the planned developments until he retires…what next?

What is your opinion on the topic?
Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Analytics Ltd
Film Director, Tech and Business Blogger, Chess Player, and Photographer. God is Science.
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