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MOICT & Participatory Governance PDF Print E-mail

By Badru Ntege

ImageParliament has many unique roles as a legal institution among them to oversee government action in many fields, including ICT. Uganda’s Parliament has a session Committee on ICT that oversees this Sector.

Civil society is an embracing term used to represent the general population, so by default we are all its members.

When it comes to ICT’s and the Internet over the years, the bottom up stakeholder approach has been used where the rules and regulations of the Internet today have been reached via dialogue and consensus from the bottom. 

These rules come from an open all-inclusive system where all members can contribute, debate, discuss and finally a proposal becomes policy.
ICT moves so fast today, that if left in the hands of the political process, which tends to come up for accountability every five years, would find any society being left behind.  For this and many other reasons, we have seen a number of states opening up their ICT policy process to a wider group of actors.

In Europe, a new term ‘participatory governance’ has been slowly introduced over the last few years.  Advocates of this approach argue, that participation supports system effectiveness because ‘it can help overcome problems of implementation by fostering the willingness of policy addressees to comply as well as through the mobilization of the knowledge of those affected.’ (Gbikpi and Grote 2002: 23)

From this functional point of view, civil society participation is a necessary condition of system effectiveness and the democratic legitimacy of a governance system being gauged in terms of its output (Heinelt 1998).

Drawing on this perception, Phillippe Schmitter suggests that the representatives of ‘collectivities’ that would be affected by a policy participate in the process of policy preparation and formulation.

The appropriate criterion for participation is chosen according to the substance of the problem to be solved (Schmitter 2002: 62–63). This conception defines participation in functional terms, which means that citizens’ right to participate depends on the resources they introduce in the political process.

Over in Kenya we have seen this happen and if you look at the countries where ICT is making a real impact in Africa you cannot move too far away from Kenya.  The Kenya ICT network (KICTANET) has shown the value of participatory governance in a way that makes me proud to be East African. 

One could easily say that the TEAMS fibre cable was an outcome of participatory governance where as a result of continued infighting of the EASSY cable team the Kenyans decided to go their way.  Permanent Secretary Dr. Bitange Ndemo and his team knew that due to the dialogue they have and the input from both private sector and civil society the risk of going it alone and building their own cable was a risk worth taking.   To think that the decision was also taken and deposits paid during Kenya’s darkest days is testament to the value of participatory governance. 

Over here in Uganda we have not attempted to build an undersea cable but to build a national backbone and look what a mess we have made of it.  Yet we have members from private sector who have built more amazing networks in half the time at a fraction of the cost.   Our neighbours in Rwanda not only built a network in a fraction of the time but at a fraction of the cost if you compare meter by meter.
We do not expect our civil servants, or legislators to be fully conversant with the fast moving technology, however, the concept of participatory governance as was adopted to address the debate on the European Union’s legitimacy crisis led to the discovery of civil society by EU institutions. With the waning of the permissive consensus, politicians, bureaucrats, and academics shifted their attention towards the input-oriented dimension of democratic legitimacy, which results from authentic participation and governance ‘by the people’.

In Kenya we see this via the KICTANET list where policy issues are debated with the Permanent Secretary being involved in the online dialogue to discuss issues, gain input but also eloquently defend government positions. In comparison here in Uganda it is appreciated that our PS Pat Saamanya may not have an ICT background but he should surround himself with competent people who can participate in the dialogue. 

It is no good just being on active mailing lists like the I-Network list as a silent participant, with ICT we need to have constant dialogue.  Private sector and society as a whole cannot be ignored.  Civil servants attending international conferences cannot be the only source for knowledge and input into policy making.   As an example next door in Kenya where in a space of a few years the Kenyan regulator has moved from worst to become Africa regulator of the year for 2009, civil society dialogue was a key contributor to this since regulation and policy had been openly discussed and so implementation was smooth and quick to show positive results.
In conclusion, it is our collective duty to encourage an atmosphere that allows for open and transparent consultation not heavily dependent on a culture of blame.  ICT allows us to avoid creating a society of haves and have-nots, discussion forums like the I-Network allow all members of society with an email to share their views and at times share positive insights that can be incorporated into policy making.  The I-Network list now has legislators, CEO’s, students and people from a cross section of society able to discuss and contribute openly.  Our civil servants should learn to use this forum to solicit input into policy, just as the legislators discovered it as a tool that helps them exercise more effectively their legislative and oversight functions with a view of creating conditions particularly favourable for promotion of ICTs for development, and should strive to enhance democracy through the use of ICTs.

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