13 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Let's Harness the Potential of ICTs


The advent of information communication technology growth, which has extended the tentacles of globalisation with unprecedented rapidity, has been met with apprehension in some quarters and embraced as an opportunity in others.

The rate at which we adopt the ICTs and gradually adapt to the new reality of the interconnectedness of the world where it is no longer possible to ignore what is happening miles away in terms of technological advancement, will determine how quickly we better serve our different constituents by harnessing the potential of ICTs.

Zimbabwe is one country that has to a large extent, brought the use of computers and related communication technology aboard its many processes, with results beginning to show though largely in the private sector.

The adage "justice delayed is justice denied" still rings true even in this day.

The country's justice delivery system is hamstrung by many challenges, chief among those being funding, which has condemned our courts to old ways of doing things.

Interestingly, even though information management systems and the hardware were put in place today, a few legislative hurdles would still have to be overcome to make our justice system ICTs compliant.

The Government has to usher in that enabling framework without further delay.

Officially opening the Masvingo High Court circuit on Monday, High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe urged the Government to come up with legislation permitting witnesses outside the country to give evidence remotely by video link to reduce costs of criminal trials.

"There is a need for legislation permitting overseas witnesses to give evidence remotely by video link, which could also substantially reduce costs of criminal trials to the public purse.

"What comes to mind is the role that information communication technology can play in evidence capture, preservation and its eventual presentation during trial. Similar steps have been taken in other jurisdictions with apparently beneficial results," said Justice Hungwe.

We agree with the judge that we do not need to re-invent the wheel but adopt tried and tested systems and processes already in use in other countries.

The use of ICTs in many other sectors has led to improved efficiencies and hence reduced costs.

Out of the 110 cases committed for trial in the Masvingo High Court circuit in a year, only 23 were completed, showing the need to improve processes to efficiently and expeditiously deliver justice to our people.

Many of the cases fail to take off due to the absence of witnesses, something that the use of ICTs could address through having witnesses giving evidence remotely where it is justified.

Due to paucity of resources, it is no doubt a huge task for the Government to introduce ICTs overnight but we believe the legislative framework has to be in place to allow for different partners to assist the State in this endeavour.

Also, it is quite imperative to note that a lack of appreciation of ICTs has let many a criminal off the hook as our police force is not well resourced to investigate some of ICT-related crimes in view of the growth of cybercrime.

While our police stations are not computerised, the officers are up against organised criminals who do most of their illicit deals using computers and on the Internet.

It therefore follows that the police force, the Attorney General's office and other judicial officers in our courts and even prison wardens have to be connected to this information super highway to ensure swift delivery of justice.

Unlike other sectors that introduced their staff to computers at a time when very few people had access to these gadgets, the Government has the advantage of riding on the momentum created by the growth of the use of cellular phones that have access to the Internet, and laptops.

Many of the civil servants already have an appreciation of ICTs and it must be quite demotivating for them to put down their smart phones when they get to the office and then use some manual system.

These old systems have even created loopholes where some corrupt judicial officers destroy files due to a lack of a centralised database.

The use of ICTs could also be used in monitoring the progress of cases from a central point with prisons, police and the courts having up to date information on the whereabouts of prisoners, suspects and the stages of their cases.

We believe it is time to revolutionise our legislative environment so that the justice delivery system can unleash its potential that has been stifled by statutes.

It's either we adapt or carry the cost of our inefficient systems, an option that the taxpayer would never settle for.

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