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District Net Pilot Project prepares ground for e-Governance in Uganda PDF Print E-mail
By Charles Kazooba
ImageMore than five years ago, it was extremely expensive for Mr. John Besiga, a District Councillor to write proposals seeking aid for persons with disabilities whom he represents on Mbarara district council.
Mr. Besiga used to walk long distances to find ICT facilities, spending twice as much on transport, until all services were brought to the district headquarters. This was through District Net, a rural ICT project, with support from International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD).  

“It was very expensive for me in the past. Being a person with a disability (blind) it meant paying two fares, mine and for my guide to look for Internet in town (about five kilometres from the district headquarters),” says Mr. Besiga, who entirely depends on the Internet for his work, especially emailing his proposals to fundraise for his constituents.
Mr. Besiga and other civil servants working with Mbarara local government have testified that they can now work faster with improved communication.
District Net, which was started as a pilot ICT project in 2002, has been piloted in four districts of Kayunga, Lira, Mbale and Mbarara. Within these districts, the project has been focused on eleven sub-counties, equipping them with ICT tools and infrastructure, to handle increased decentralisation activities and facilitate e-Governance.
The project was in response to Uganda’s efforts to increase transparency, support decentralisation, check corruption and participate in global digital information sharing.
Before the project, communication between Mbarara district and the lower councils was a major problem partly due to poor telephone, electricity and road network connections. But with the project, end-users say communication is now better.

For instance, Mr. Steven Kamanyire, the District Vice Chairman, says minutes of council meetings are well documented and easily shared among staff through email—evidence of improved record keeping of official communications.
ImageWhile Mr Sylvester Timbisiimirwa, the focal person of the Mbarara ICT facility says there is registered success in transparency and information sharing amongst different departments at the district headquarters, and the central government.
“We do not need to travel to Kampala frequently to update our superiors on regular financial reports. This has tremendously cut travel, accommodation and other miscellaneous costs,” said Timbisiimirwa.
"But even amongst ourselves, there is e-communication when sharing minutes, calling meetings or salary requisition from Kampala. It is just a question of emailing our soft copies to Kampala, which has reduced our costs,” he said.
Costs have reduced so much so that at least UGX 500,000 is saved per month for all district officials who used to make frequent trips to Kampala from Mbarara to report to superiors and to give programme updates.
The district authorities now say they will have a website where information on procurement, tenders and markets for produce will be posted.
Mr. Elisha Wasukira, the Coordinator I-Network Uganda, says that the project has been a success but acknowledges that due to limited resources the end-users have not realized all the expected results.
“The project was a success. Our plan was to integrate the District Net project into normal activities of the districts so that they could eventually take over and manage it sustainably,” said Mr. Wasukira of the project that was implemented by I-Network.
Wasukira says as part of the objectives, the project was intended to change the district vote book from manual to electronic, which has not been achieved.
 “There are no skills to realize that as yet. In addition, there was a lot of resistance from district staff with intense foot-dragging. Secondly, parallel initiatives by the Ministries of Local Government and Finance somehow distracted the roles of the project.”
For all its successes there are hurdles. For instance, not all departments are interconnected. Only two out of five blocks have so far been interconnected and with insufficient electricity in the district, expansion of the project is limited.
With no Internet connection between the sub counties to date, the Chief Administration Officer (CAO) is unable to report all revenue collected. So the district is not yet in a position to prepare an annual electronic report within three months after the year-end, which was a requirement of the pilot phase.
In the past, financial records in all districts in Uganda had been maintained and processed manually, and often, not up-to-date with inaccuracies leading to lack of transparency and accountability.

ImageThe district has limited Information Technology (IT) skilled human resource due to inadequate training but Mr. Kamanyire, is optimistic the project staff will catch up. For instance, a number of officials claim they didn’t understand how to use outlook because of the short training periods.
This was not achieved because of the short project lifetime, with not enough time for the district administrations to raise and allocate resources to the activity.
But at last there is Government intervention to carry on where the District Net pilot project stopped. The ICT ministry has tabled before parliament an ICT ministry Bill that will facilitate e-Governance when endorsed.

This way Mbarara and the other participating districts in the District Net project will have an edge over others to efficiently kick start e-Governance in Uganda. 

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