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MPs Raise Doubts Over Gov’t Agencies Sharing ICT Gadgets

Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of ICT and National Guidance

A section of lawmakers on Parliament’s ICT and National have raised concerns over plans by Government to purchase gadgets on a massive scale that will be used for different public projects, saying although the move is commendable, it is unrealistic as it will be hard to retrieve some of these gadgets from people hired to conduct these activities.

This followed a revelation made by Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of ICT and National Guidance who said that plans are underway by Government to purchase laptops and other gadgets on a massive scale and these will be used for different activities like national census, registration of Ugandans for national IDs, and the same equipment will be used to register Ugandans for general elections and later have them handed over for the management of the Parish Development Model (PDM).

The Minister said, “We shall use them for the census, but the census is a one off activity, then we shall use them for elections in 2026, but also give them for PDM, so we are doing bulk procurement, so once we are done with census, we may start giving them to PDM and during the time for elections, we shall withdraw them and use them for elections because we thought it is a waste of resources to buy massively for the census, then you put them in the store because the census is one off and when elections come, again you procure but then we have PDM where we also need these devices.”

The Minister’s remarks were in response to a concern raised by Noah Musa (Koboko Municipality) who asked the Minister to explain why funds haven’t been availed in the 2024/25 national budget for the Ministry of ICT to purchase computers and equipment to be used by the Parish Chiefs hired to monitor the Parish Development Model.

“The issue of PDM came up and we realized there were challenges with equipment when it came to implementing the PDM especially using the system you have developed and the Minister said they aren’t going to rely on Banks to help Government but Government is going to budget and procure equipment and computers for the Parish Chief. But I haven’t seen it here and I don’t know if you are considering it,” said Musa.

However, Tony Ayoo (Kwania County) said that the Minister’s glossy proposal was only listened to in the Committee in order not to interrupt his submission but it isn’t practically possible to retrieve laptops from Ugandans down at village level, adding that the sharing of gadgets might also affect the smooth interruption of certain programmes whose lifespan is continuous, unlike national census that is conducted every 10years.

He said, “As a Committee, we are advising you not to buy into that idea. These are very complicated groups of people dealing with this ,. We belong to this country, you know how our people behave. You will not get those gadgets. First of all, the National Identification and Registrations Authority (NIRA) needs to do their work continuously throughout the year, so they will not handover a single computer to you for this purpose. Then the one for census, yes you can get some. But let us deal with PDM and PDM, we have put there over Shs1Trn, we are adding more money.”

“I don’t know how you will retrieve these things, even motorcycles and vehicles are hard to retrieve. That idea sounds well when you are trying to save situations of making the meeting move well without interruptions but reality is going to be difficult and yet we have injected a lot of money meant for this was diverted to some other activities,” added Ayoo.

Moses Magogo, Chairperson, Parliament’s ICT and National Guidance Committee, noted that most of these gadgets’ life span ranges for three years yet the activities cited run for longer period stating, “You should remember that the lifetime of these ICT equipment by depreciation is 2.6-3years as standard. So how much time are we talking about to use this equipment for all these three will they still be effective? I mean, when is the census? When are the elections and when is the PDM?”

Noah Musa (Koboko North) also expressed doubts about the sustainability of this proposal arguing, “PDM is a continuous process, you can’t say you will withdraw the equipment and use them for census, that means you will be halting the activities of PDM around that time. I think having equipment that will be withdrawn for sometime is going to interrupt the services.”

Minister Baryomunsi also called for the consolidation of all ICT budgets into the Ministry of ICT in order to avoid duplication and wasteful expenditure, saying the scattering of these budgets have seen some Ministries and Agencies outsource services internationally, yet there is capacity with the Ministry of ICT and the National Information and Technology Authority-Uganda (NITA-U) to provide these same services at lower costs.

“The other challenge that we have observed is that during the planning and budget process, different Ministries and agencies also plan for ICT. I totally agree with you that we need to examine the entire budget and see if we can consolidate all the resources for ICT under one Ministry and then we service the entire Government. I think that way, we shall be able to address the funding gaps and then we build capacity. Because if we haven’t done that, then you find Ministries now bring foreign consultants which work we think can be done by Government and yet we are talking about digital sovereignty where we are talking of our own capacity to handle some of these issues,” said Baryomunsi.

He cited two scenarios where he claimed to have noticed that the Ministry of Finance had more money for its ICT budget, more than the Ministry of ICT and at the same time the Judiciary hired a consultant to develop a software application for them from a foreign firm yet Uganda had in house capacity from the Ministry of ICT and NITA-Uganda.

This followed a concern raised by Moses Magogo, Chairperson Parliament’s ICT Committee who wondered why there is limited information sharing among different agencies of Government, which comes at the expense of convenience of Ugandans with him remarking, “We have been talking about standardization of development, we should build systems that are talking to each other instead of everywhere you go, they are asking for information about you, what is your name but when NIRA is sitting with this information. I think it is important that when development of applications is done, there are standardizations such that where another development is done it is very easy to talk into it and don’t duplicate the work.”

There were several concerns raised by MPs including why 57 staff at the Ministry of ICT haven’t had their contracts renewed, after money meant for their wages was diverted to other activities, while some MPs asked if the Ministry has any plans to build its own home and save Ugandans of the high rental charges that now stand at Shs2.7Bn annually.

 

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