Kenya increases e-government efforts, burnishing international image

Sectors of the public are still skeptical about electronic government services, however

Kenya, recognized as a developing-economy, e-government leader, has committed $900 million for electronic services in the last six months alone, but officials say more education is needed to foster acceptance of the new e-tools for public services.

A United Nations' 2014 survey identified Kenya and Morocco as e-government leaders in Africa, in terms of the number of citizens engaged in using e-services, though the report cited Tunisia and Mauritius as offering the most developed electronic services for citizens on the continent. South Korea, Australia and Singapore are the global leaders in e-government development, the report said.

Since the report was issued in February, though, the Kenya government has earmarked $900 million toward new-generation digital identity cards and has launched biometric registration for civil services to root out "ghost workers," civil servants earning double salaries from different ministries and others who still draw civil-service salaries but are no longer working.

In addition, the Kenya Revenue Authority has launched iTax, for online tax returns and registration, and two weeks ago, President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled an e-procurement system and the "Huduma" public service kiosks (Huduma means service in Swahili.)

"Since the [U.N.] report was published, the government has made tremendous steps towards improving public service and e-participation, which is a progression of the investments we have made in ICT infrastructure" said Victor Kyalo, acting CEO of the Kenya ICT Authority.

The Kenyan government also has sought to engage the public through social media and mobile services, most notably the development of applications that integrate with the nation's company registry, allowing people to search company and business names via mobile.

"All the digitization efforts are calculated to provide a platform for developers to create and customize applications that can allow citizens in rural, urban and across all groups to access services easily," added Kyalo.

There are 13 Huduma Kenya Centres. In Nairobi they are located at the general post office, City Square, and Makadara. Others centers are located in Machakos, Nyeri, Embu, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kakamega, Kisumu, Kisii, Kajiado and Mombasa, offering over 20 different services from various ministries and government institutions. "An additional 20 centres will be opened in various counties during the current financial year," said Anne Waiguru, cabinet secretary in the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, after the opening of the Huduma center in Mombasa last week.

Different government departments have traditionally provided services separately. For instance, if someone loses her national ID card, she has to first report to the police station and get a form, which then must be taken to the ministry of internal security before an application can be submitted for a new ID. Huduma centers centralize these services under one roof and are expected to involve the local youth in providing online services. There is a cyber cafe incorporated within the centers, run by local youth.

The 2014 U.N. survey reported an increased emphasis on Open Government Data initiatives and although Kenya has an Open Data platform, it has been struggling with putting data online, given the level of public service corruption and wastage likely to be exposed by such data.

The report cites challenges such as resistance by civil servants, due to fears that e-services mean job cuts, and a public feeling that most people who are not tech-savvy will be shut out from government services.

"There is a lot of education that is needed both within the civil service and the public; we have started with the awareness within the government ministries and we hope to continue the process," added Kyalo.

The U.N. report noted that national income levels were not clear indicators of e-government development, as some countries with lower income levels are making major strides.

"There are many countries that have significantly advanced their e-government despite relatively low national income, just as there are many countries which are lagging behind despite their relatively high income and thereby have good opportunities for future improvement," said the U.N. report.

Kenya has been struggling maintain an international image as the innovation and digital hub in Africa. Kyalo concluded that government services will be major enablers to ICT industry growth.

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