The Kenyan Government looks set to upgrade its computer equipment as part of an e-government strategy that will start in June this year, according to Peter Gakunu, ICT adviser to the Kenyan Cabinet. This is part of a four-year, three-phase project budgeted to cost Sh2.5 billion.

However, according to a brief to information and communication industry players by the information and communication technology (ICT) adviser to the cabinet, Mr Peter Gakunu, skills in the government are inadequate for effective implementation of the strategy.

"ICT skills in government are inadequate indicating serious capacity problems for effective roll-out of the E-government," Mr Gakunu says.

Mr Gakunu, a career civil servant, was previously the economic secretary in the treasury before he moved to become the adviser to the cabinet on the roll-out of E-government.

The first phase is intended to ensure that the infrastructure to implement the strategy is in place. The second phase is supposed to ensure that government ministries and departments are linked up through the internet by June 2007. By the end of the phase the state should be able to communicate within itself. Here it will be possible to manage the pay rolls and finances of the government using the system.

The third phase will see the state open itself to the public and be able to provide services in what is referred as "government portal". An electronic voting and ID acquisition system is expected to be completed by the end of year 2007 when the next General Elections are due.

The new system is supposed to ease service provision and bring about "digital democracy such as opinion polls, electronic voting, electronic voter register scrutiny and inter-government interaction," says Mr Gakunu.

However, he laments that most computers in use in government offices have old processors, and most are older than Pentium III processors, that is, with processing speeds of below 800 MHz. "Most are not equipped with up to-date software."

There is also the problem of procurement of computers. "Standards are not strictly adhered to in procuring computers and software," Mr Gakunu says of the constraints within which the state is being forced to work.

In order to achieve the objectives of the project, the state intends to build consensus and have a common understanding across Government, hold sensitisation workshops with Permanent Secretaries and ministerial ICT Committees, hold a national Convention on E-Government, among other things.

Just last week an ICT conference was held at Safari Park, where the participants expressed disappointment at the slow pace at which the government was moving with regard to putting an ICT policy in place.

In order to roll out the programme, the Government has come up with a cabinet committee chaired by the Minister of State for Provincial Administration security, Chris Murungaru.

The committee comprises the Ministers for Finance, Tourism and Information, Education, and Transport and Communication. It is charged with the work of overseeing the implementation of the E-Government strategy.

There is also a committee of all Permanent Secretaries and accounting officers, which is supposed to coordinate the implementation of the E-government initiative. It also provides the institutional support and ownership needed to marshal resources and manpower to expedite the implementation of E-Government.

A directorate of E-government has also been initiated to provide leadership, facilitate coordination and drive the E-Government process. Mr Gakunu says in the ICT brief that it "provides coordination and advises on issues pertaining to electronic business, telecommunications and technology; plans and develops strategies and directs government wide activities to support other agencies; and participates in the analysis, monitoring and evaluation of E-government issues, policies and legislation."

The ministerial committees are supposed to review the various ICT policy initiatives in the Ministries supporting what is being referred to as "the Ministerial Policy Mandate" and identify technical and institutional gaps. It is further meant to undertake an audit of ICT capacity and recommend the ways of improving the situation.

The institutional structure of achieving the E-government strategy is such that the cabinet committee is at the top and is advised by committees of permanent secretaries, who in turn technical receive advice from the Directorate of E-government that draws strength from the National Communications Services and the Government Information Technology Service. The directorate also works above individual ministerial ICT committees of which each has an ICT unit.

Among the other objectives of the strategy is to enable electronic procurement of goods to enable suppliers to do transactions with the government over the internet and electronic registration of suppliers.

Mr Gakunu says the strategy will see to the introduction of "e-talking to citizens, that is, providing citizens with details of public sector activities and information such as the Kenya Gazette, laws and regulations through websites; enhancing listening to citizens, that is, increasing the input of citizens into public sector decisions and actions."

It will enhance E-policing so that a traffic policeman could access details of a car or driver in the event of an accident.

E-voting is intended to ensure that there is no congestion at polling halls and that vote counting is done quickly.

An electronic payment system for utility bills for water and electricity will also be part of the new strategy.

However, in the brief the security issues are noted. It recognises that the way business is transacted, government operates, and national defence is conducted is increasingly relying on an interdependent network of information technology infrastructures ­ otherwise called cyberspace ­ where there are security risks of potential attacks from legitimate clients, government official users, and from hostile outsiders, criminals, terrorists and foreign spy agencies.

The Nation