Minister Jeff Radebe: Gauteng e-Government and ICT Summit 2015

2 Nov 2015

Keynote address by Minister in the Presidency: Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and Chairperson of the National Planning Commission, Minister Jeff Radebe, MP, at the Gauteng e-Government and ICT Summit 2015

Programme Director, Ms Barbara Creecy, MEC for Finance
Honourable Premier, Mr David Makhura,
Members of the Gauteng Executive Council,
Councillor Parks Tau, Executive Mayor of Johannesburg,
Councillor Kgosientso Ramokgopa, Executive Mayor of Tshwane,
Other councillors present
Senior Government Officials
Business Leaders
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be able to join you today for this important summit on ICT and e-governance under the theme “Connecting the Gauteng City Region for Modern and Faster Public Services”.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is considered by the National Development Plan as critical to the attainments of its goals of economic growth and improved service provision.

The world we live in today has been made so much better and more efficient because of the advancement of ICT. Consumers around the world are able to purchase goods and service from suppliers in different parts of the world. They can also buy groceries and pretty much anything they need without ever leaving their homes. Such is the power of ICT.

The National Development Plan highlights the importance of ICT for economic growth and development as follows:

  • ICT is a critical enabler of economic activity in an increasingly networked world. As a sector, ICT may provide important direct opportunities for manufacturing, service provision and job creation, but their main contribution to economic development is to enhance communication and information flows that improve productivity and efficiency.

For this reason, a country that seeks to be globally competitive must have an effective ICT system, as this “infrastructure” provides the backbone to a modern economy and its connections to the global economy. The link between ICT's contribution to economic growth only takes effect when connectivity reaches a critical point, estimated to be 40 percent for voice communications 20 percent for broadband.

Access to ICT platforms

It is estimated that some 40% of the world’s population have access to the internet, compared to a mere 1% in 1995. Internet penetration on our continent stands at an estimated 27%. Here at home the estimates are that just under 50% of South Africans have access to the internet. Put differently, internet users in South Africa have grown from 7.6 persons out of 100 persons in 2006 to 48.6 persons out of 100 persons in 2013.

SIM card penetration stands at an estimated 150% and some market researchers are telling us that more people are buying smart phones than feature phones these days.

These trends have contributed to an overall improvement in the competiveness ranking of South Africa. The 2015 Global Competitiveness Report indicates that South Africa improve 7 places.

However, our rankings on the network readiness index published by the World Economic Forums Global IT report indicates that we slipped from number 37 to 70 over the same period. The 2015 report indicates that South Africa’s ranking slipped further to 75th out of 143 countries.

Ladies and gentlemen

The digital future is diverse; it is here and it is defying old traditional divides that have characterised our world thus far.

These changes in technology and the rise of the internet are raising citizen’s expectations on how government should deliver services. Expectations are also widened by the diversity of citizens, based on social, political, geographical and economic circumstances. All our citizens, with their unique challenges and needs rightly expect public servants to treat them with dignity, respect and professionalism using channels that are most accessible and cost-effective for them.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Gauteng Province for taking the initiative to be the first province to introduce tablet computers in all high schools with the aim of taking our schools into the 21st century. This I call leadership that can only be expected of a province such as Gauteng, our economic heartland.

While the programme has had some false starts and teething problems, this is to be expected. Be assured of our support as we look to the success of this initiative for lessons that can be applied in other provinces.

Let me take this opportunity to call on our people to treasure and protect these educational assets. Communities should work with authorities to apprehend the criminals who steal these tablet computers. We should send a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated in our communities. These are enemies of our progress and of our future.

Students and education authorities should also make sure that this equipment is be used only for the purpose for which it was intended – education and nothing else. The digital future is indeed here.

The impact of the rapidly increasing access to the internet

These developments have led to increased pressure on government as society has come to expect more efficiency and effective service delivery centred on the needs of citizens, rather than what is best for government organisations. These developments have also provided government with an opportunity for institutional, organisational, process and conceptual innovation.
ICT has been used to enable citizens- as the users of government services- to communicate more easily with government departments and agencies about their satisfactions as well as their unhappiness. Using ICT services citizens are able to quickly report potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights, water service interruptions, burst sewer pipes, and electricity supply interruptions.
ICT has also brought many gains in the manner in which governments around the world are able to deliver services. It has changed the nature of how government communicates with citizens, from the one-way approach of traditional print, television and radio media to a two way methods of digital and social media. This has compelled government to listen more attentively to citizens.

Distinguished guests

The City of Joburg’s acclaimed Twitter account is setting an example to the rest of government on how we can better utilise social media to build public trust through a responsive approach to citizen-centric engagements.

However, uneven access to ICT due to racial, income, geographical and other reasons denies a large proportion of our citizens the opportunity to participate in this digital economy. This entrenches inequality, poverty and also unemployment. It is therefore not only the responsibility of government to offer new technologies and platforms but more importantly, the opportunity for government to transform the way it delivers to citizens.

Governments are challenged to re-examine the way their organisations and processes are structured, and to identify opportunities for integration and simplification to reduce service delivery costs, minimise the burden of accessing services from citizens, and thus increase citizen-satisfaction. Governments and departments that do not embrace ICT are bound to falter in their service delivery mandate.

Citizens expect to be able to phone call centres, submit web-queries, use mobile applications, communicate via social media and speak to one person throughout the transaction who has access to their information and history at their fingertips. Many citizens get justifiable frustrated when they communicate their concerns but do not receive any feedback for an extended period or not at all and use social media to voice their dissatisfaction.

For these platforms to work and enable government to communicate back as well as resolve the queries submitted, there needs to be necessary systems developed, clear strategies for how to use these platforms, the necessary human resources and technical capacity dedicated to managing them. Departments and government agencies need to go through a culture change to be able to provide services using the various digital platforms mentioned above.

Although troubled by many false starts, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) introduced its new greatly improved e-services. The services include a transactional website for customer registration, company registrations, address and financial year end changes, annual return calculation and filing and a new web service to effect director and member changes. These improvements ease the challenge of doing business and contribute positively towards our global competitiveness as indicated earlier.

It is not enough to merely have a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram account, in the same way that it is not enough to purchase sophisticated ICT equipment that no one can use. It is about integrating digital channels and technology into how our organisations function in a way that significantly changes how we deliver services and meet our developmental goals.
As it happens, our government has wasted billions of Rand purchasing ICT systems that did not meet the service requirements in the health sector, municipalities and in many other government agencies.

It is only when a department has developed the channels and platforms for communicating and delivering services to its customers; when the strategies for e-services are in place; when there is dedicated and trained staff; when the department adapts its service delivery protocols to deliver services online that we can truly say we have e-government.
Why should we care about e-government?

Good quality ICT systems in particular high-speed broadband are and essential backbone of an efficient e-government system.

E-government is about an efficient and effective management and operations systems, and it is no coincidence that these systems are the key focus for improving the delivery of services identified in the National Development Plan.

ICT and e-government play a critical role in enabling government to achieve the required levels of efficiency and effectiveness and meeting our peoples’ needs.  The NDP also acknowledged that vision 2030 will be realized only if it is supported by a coordinated and enabling ICT strategy and plan as part of building a capable state. Therefore, government as a whole is reliant on ICT's contribution to enhancing service delivery and improving the overall business of the public sector.

E-Government may be applied to improve internal efficiency, the delivery of public services, or processes. The primary delivery models are Government-to-Citizen (G2C), Government-to-Business (G2B) and Government-to-Government (G2G).

E-government delivers improved efficiency, convenience, and better accessibility of public services. Implementing e-government is part of Public Service transformation agenda as guided by the Batho Pele framework and principles of improving service delivery. E-government and ICT are elements of a larger government modernisation programme.

Progress on developing e-government systems

While challenges remain and we are far from implementing a full e-government system, significant strides have been made.

I have already made reference to the acclaimed City of Joburg’s Twitter account and the e-services of the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission.

The Department of Home Affairs is among the leading parts of our government on e-governance. Who would have thought that citizens can apply for identity documents and passports in bank branches, receive updates via SMS about the different stages of the application until the document is delivered? Through embracing superior technologies and improving management practices, Home Affairs is able to reduce the turnaround time for delivering these services by a huge margin and in the process reduce the fraud and corruption that had become synonymous with the Department of Home Affiars.

The Department of Home Affairs’ smartcard-ID focuses on the automation of finger prints which offer a weapon against crime. The development of an electronic Population Registry also ensures that citizens can access birth and death registration forms online.

An e-government information portal, called Batho Pele Gateway has been established; Thusong Service Centres have been established to provide people in villages with access to ICT and ICT related services; many of universities and some schools are ICT enabled, health centres are connected with ICTs, all provincial and national government departments and many local governments have some e-government elements.

The South African Revenue Services (SARS) e-filing already provides a means to conduct transactions related to tax returns on the internet. Every year an increasing number of taxpayers are using this platform which has made the process of submitting tax returns easier and more efficient.

The process of application, registration and delivery of social assistance programmes have been ICT enabled and in the process, significantly reducing fraud and improving service delivery.
Government has implemented a number of transversal projects such as the financial, personnel management systems and supply chain management systems (Persal, Bas and Logis).

Benefits of e-government

E-government presents various benefits if it is strategically implemented to help the government deliver basic services to the people.

They include:

  • Easy Access to Information  - by enabling citizens to easily access relevant information that will help them make informed decisions in their day to day life. This includes information on the services provided by government and how such services can be accessed and the procedural requirements prior to accessing the services.
  • Convenience - that is provided by electronic accessibility of government services enables citizens to access the services in the comfort of their homes and offices. This in turn saves both the citizens and government money and time. On the part of the citizens, this also saves them transport and related costs.
  • Improved Customer Service – results from allowing citizens to service themselves electronically instead of waiting for the government officials to assist them, thus allowing the public servants to attend to the most pressing issues affecting the community. This also addresses the unnecessary long queues at service centres.
  •  Reduced Paperwork - by making most of the transactions to be done online, the need for paperwork decreases, saving the government and businesses money and storage space needs for needless papers.

Challenges

Many challenges remain that we believe e-government can help solve. It is a source of grave concern and frankly embarrassment for the executive that government is still not able to pay service providers within 30 days, even though the decision was made a while ago.

The work done by DPME and the National Treasury reveals that with respect to national departments, the number of legitimate invoices paid after 30-days from the days of receipt remains high, being 13,390 in May 2015 and 13,803 in June 2015. The rand value of these invoices was 234 million in May 2015 and decreased to 224 million in June 2015.

What is also of concern is the number of invoices older than 30-days, which were not paid at all.  For national departments, the number of such invoices was 4,455 in May 2015 and 4,543 in June 2015. The rand value of these invoices has increased from 299 million in May 2015 to 410 million in June 2015.

With respect to Provincial departments, the number of legitimate invoices paid after 30-days from the days of receipt is three times higher than that of National Departments. In May 2015, Provincial departments paid a total 24 888 invoices after the mandatory 30-day period.  This figure increased to 30,466 in June 2015.

The rand value of the invoices paid after 30 days was R6.1 billion in May 2015 and decreased to R1.6 billion in June 2015. What is also of concern is the number of invoices older than 30-days, which were not paid at all.  For Provincial departments, the number of such invoices was 37,195 in May 2015 and decreased somewhat to 32,339 in June 2015. The rand value of the invoices older than 30-days which were not paid at all was R2.6 billion in May 2015 and R 2.5 billion in June 2015.

The second challenge where the adoption of e-services could help improve the situation is the corruption in the procurement system. Corruption has a corrosive effect on society and we must deal with it decisively wherever it manifests itself.

The third challenge is the management of waiting lists for housing delivery. The experience of our people is that the housing lists are not transparent and they are subject to manipulation. We must build a system that our people will have confidence in. My view is that this is technically very simple but only complicated by those who want undue benefit by manipulating the system.

Fourthly, the process of managing car and driver licensing is made unduly complicated. It is cumbersome, and frustrating. Our people have to take leave in order to do what people in other countries do online, with relative ease and in the shortest possible time. The system is flawed on a number of levels from the handling of cash for which the banking system should be used and the administration of the different tests.

One employee in my department had renewed his drivers’ licence and through bad fortune lost his card within 3 months of receiving it. When he approached the licensing department for a replacement card, he was made to do all the tests that he had done a mere three months earlier. The system did not know that he had met all requirements, the validity of which is five years, only three months ago. The result of these poor business processes is that our people find themselves spending hours in queues they should not be standing.

I can make many other examples, but I hope the point is made that there are many other areas where e-governance can help improve service delivery.

E-government can also improve the quality of data available for decision making. Better data means better planning and easier monitoring and evaluation which in turn creates a more responsive government with more evidence-based policies.

Plans for rolling out e-government

In 2013, government adopted a broadband strategy known as South Africa Connect. As part of this strategy, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services is planning to roll-out broadband infrastructure to all government institutions followed by a progressive roll-out to other users that do not have access currently. For the goals of South Africa Connect to be realised, there is a need to roll-out infrastructure throughout the country and ensure, through regulatory and other means, that the costs for broadband become competitive.
Hashtag, Broadband Costs Must Fall!

Various cities and provinces have adopted strategies to bring broadband to their communities as this is regarded as essential to their development. Broadband is currently free in parts of the City of Tshwane and the City of Joburg. We commend these cities and encourage others to work with the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services to extend similar service to their citizens as well.

Access to broadband is essential for enabling citizens to take part in the e-government revolution.

During this (2014 – 2019) Medium Term Strategic Framework period, the DPSA working with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA) and Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services have identified a number of services for e-enabling and these includes:

  •  e-Education: Establishment of teacher knowledge testing system for feedback into training and support
  •  e-Justice: Integrated electronic Criminal Justice system ICT to provide accurate and timely management of  information
  • e-Health: Development of a system design for National Integrated patient based information system
  • e-SAPS: A computer generated investigation progress report to complainants  and victims of crime

As Einstein said, we cannot continue doing the same things and hope for different results.

E-government is about finding new and better ways of delivering services in schools, hospitals, municipalities, company registration offices, business support, planning and development approvals, among others.

As government we are committed to finding new ways. I would like to take this opportunity to invite the private sector to work with us in an honest way to find solutions. Too frequently, unsuspecting officials and politicians are duped into buying technological systems by vendors who are only keen to sell their products.

Conclusion

In conclusion, positive progress has been made in the implementation of e-government. However, future efforts will require capacity building.
This will require public servants to receive continuous part development and training, while citizens are to be empowered in obtaining general ICT training especially at Thusong Service Centres.

Improved access to e-government needs to be created, especially in rural areas where infrastructure may hamper the ability of citizens to access service through the conventional modes of delivery.

Formal monitoring systems will also need to be put in place to assess the impact on service delivery brought by e-government.

We need an honest and true partnership with the private sector to deliver e-governance in a range of service delivery areas. The partnership between the banking sector and the Department of Home Affairs is an example of how we can work together in a mutually beneficial way to resolve service delivery.

I wish you well in your deliberations in this important summit as I believe its outcomes will have many lessons for national government as well.

Thank you.