"We should be having this meeting with everyone sitting in his office; that is possible, but still we leave our offices and make a long trip for such occasions."
That was the complaint of Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi last week, dissatisfied with the fact that he had to meet local and central government officials physically for a mid-term assessment of performance contracts (imihigo), instead of through video-conferencing. For him, this is indicative of the fact that the use of ICT by the administration is still limited.
In the Premier's view, ICT should play a significant role in the way central government communicates with local officials, mayors with officers at sector level and so forth, yet he observed it is still not happening enough.
For sure Habumuremyi is a man who knows what he is talking about. Since last year, the government committed itself that many projects would be embraced with the use of new technologies so as to ensure fast and good service delivery to communities.
Almost a year ago, the ministry of local government made a commitment to step up the use of technology to ensure fast and good service delivery. This came at a time when the country had already entered the third phase of a 5-year ICT policy, the National Information and Communication program (NICI 3 inaugurated in mid 2011) that is to focus on ICT in service delivery, after that the first two phases concentrated on fostering ICT literacy and developing the required infrastructure.
There have been results, though. ICT is now being used in services such as the emigration and immigration office, land registration, e-health and identity cards, as well as consumer services such as mobile money transfers and e-Soko. Yet many public offices are still lagging behind.
That has prompted Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT, to initiate field visits to different government entities to get an idea of the extent to which ICT is being used. Last week for instance he visited one of the trailblazers, the Immigration and Emigration Office, where the Minister witnessed how passports, laissez-passers and visas are issued almost on the go.
"The progress is good, though there is still a lot to do," was Nsengimana muted analysis.
On the plus side, he noted that Rwandans can now get a laissez-passer just by presenting their ID at their district offices. "There is a system that decodes the ID and sends all information to the main office in Kigali," the Minister explained. "With this technology, it's no longer necessary for Rwandans to leave say Ngororero or Muhanga since they can get the service at home."
Thus, it takes only 40 minutes to issue a laissez-passer once Migration has all the required information, Nsengimana observed.
Such exemplary service delivery is certainly appreciated. Thomas Gahundi, a resident of Rusororo in Gasabo, said it constitutes a big change. "Ten years ago we had to wait at least two weeks for a passport, but now we get it in three days," he pointed out.
However, the Minister noted that even a progressive agency such as Migration can still do better. For him, the ultimate goal would be to introduce a kind of self-service system where anyone who has access to internet can get all the services from his home.
There are more than 100 services that Rwandans should be able to obtain online, which just requires a better use of ICT, Nsengimana pointed out. Examples would be all kinds of certificates such as birth, marriage or divorce that are now obtained at the sector level.
The way forward, according to the Minister, is to identify the most sought services and see how they can be offered by using ICT.
To make all this happen however requires some basic infrastructure such as access to internet or mobile handsets. So far, mobile phone penetration has reached at about 50% but computer ownership only stands at 10%.
To remedy this, Nsengimana said, Public Access Points are established countrywide so as to provide Internet even to people in remote areas. There are so far 90 centers so far, and the aim is to have more than one in every sector.