Constant review vital for National ICT Policy

Tawanda Musarurwa
With information and communication technologies (ICTs) fast becoming the linchpin of economies across the globe, Government launched the National ICT Policy this week.

In terms of the basic facets of a well-designed ICT Policy, Zimbabwe’s policy addresses all the critical areas.

Some of the identified critical areas that an ICT Policy should address include, the identification of potential data needs and sources; assessment of the quality of ICT infrastructure and access; business use of ICTs; ICT usage in/by government, and ICT production and trade.

Other key factors include the legal and regulatory framework, and availability of human resources and ICT skills.

A reading of the recently launched ICT Policy shows that all these critical elements are constituted.

Government has broad appreciation of the essential role of innovative ICTs in economic development.

“Innovation is an essential part of a thriving ICT sector, and more broadly, a thriving economy, enabling businesses to develop ICT solutions and compete on a global scale by creating jobs, wealth and economic growth.

“It allows states to improve public services and transform their public sectors through innovative ICT solutions,” said President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the launch of the policy.

“The adoption and proper utilisation of ICT solutions will lead to increased yields and quality production of goods and services thereby contributing to the rise in the gross domestic product (GDP).”

But, the Ministry of ICT and Cyber Security needs to be really on the ball concerning the National ICT Policy.

Why?

Well, for one thing ICTs are extremely fast-changing. So much so that tomorrow a new totally novel technology could be launched that can instantly revolutionise how some things are done – think Uber, cryptocurrency (although the latter is yet to reach its full potential).

Constant and consistent reviews of the ICT policy are therefore critical so that it doesn’t become fast antiquated.

For one thing, I found it a bit disconcerting that the ICT Policy that was launched last week is actually dated 2016. In the technology and innovation space, momentous change can take place in just two years.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in a paper titled ‘A Framework for Information and Communications Technology Policy Review: Helping Countries Leverage ICT for Development’ emphasizes the need for regular review of national ICT policies.

“Regular reviews of ICT policy plans, involving different stakeholders, are important in that context. Failure to take early steps to monitor the implementation of ICT policy measures can delay ICT development and restrict future policy measures.

“Many developing countries have not yet defined, as part of their ICT plans, mechanisms for ongoing policy review, assessment and monitoring to ensure that evolving ICT strategies are consistent with their development goals and to maximise the positive contributions of investment in ICTs,” says UNCTAD.

Another critical issue is implementation.

“A large number of developing countries have put in place one or several national ICT plans or are in the process of incorporating relevant policies and strategies into their national development plans.

“While the key elements of an integrated national ICT policy framework are now well known, their implementation at country level is still often inadequate.

“This partly reflects the absence of a coordinated national response and regular review of their effectiveness.

“Yet, beyond the recognition of the positive impact of ICT on economic growth and the definition of ICT strategies, consideration needs to be given to how ICTs can be effectively used by Governments and enterprises to foster economic growth and other relevant objectives.”

Zimbabwe has had its share of problems with implementing ICT policies. For instance, although the issue of interoperability between the country’s mobile telecommunication service providers pre-dates the National ICT Policy (2016), to date the country’s telecommunication operators are yet to implement interoperability, prompting Government to issue a notice of direct intervention just last month.

Closely related to this, another problematic issue has been the issue of infrastructure sharing, some firms still appear resistant to the idea notwithstanding the stated broader benefits of telecoms firms sharing key infrastructure.

The National ICT policy does mention these key policy components (interoperability and infrastructure sharing), but the implementation framework is generally lacking. This is an example of where a review would have worked wonders.

Aside from the limitations of the National ICT Policy, Zimbabwe has made some significant strides in respect of its ICT sector.

According to the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ)’s 2017 annual report, the country’s active mobile subscriptions rose from 12 878 926 in 2016 to 14 092 104 in 2017, a 9, 4 percent increase, while the mobile penetration rate rose by 7, 9 percent from 94, 8 percent to 102, 7 percent.

During the same period, active internet subscriptions rose from 6 721 947 to 6 971 617, up 3, 7 percent, while the internet penetration rate rose from 50 percent in 2016 to 50, 8 percent, a 0, 8 percent growth.

But perhaps more importantly for the future of ICTs in the country, the figures show that mobile internet data grew 89, 8 percent from 8,094 terrabytes (TB) to 15 360 TB.

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