Is the Sierra Leone government on the cusp of its next digital evolution?

Dr. Emmanuel Johnson PhD: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 December 2019:

The parliament of Representatives in Sierra Leone should enact the Modernizing Government Technology Act, and 2019-2020 budget negotiations are soon to begin.

The Bio administration now moves beyond merely improving agency operations to invest in new digital services that enhance the taxpayer experience. By improving citizens’ digital interactions with the government, this administration can help boost the public’s opinion of the government.

Past administrations made snail-spaced contributions toward a more digital-friendly government. For instance, the Koroma government understood the importance of the Internet and never urged ministries to develop websites.

The Bio administration should advance the concept of “e-government,” moving sites from paper view-only to transactional. President Bio’s team should help launch sierraleone.gov, the first official web portal of the Sierra Leone government.

President Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio should push for the government to adopt the latest commercial trends, with launch of different ministries, the Sierra Leone Digital Services, and the Big Data initiatives.

He also contributed to the government’s digital transformation by cultivating a significant presence on social media, where he can conduct meetings and give an online persona of the President of Sierra Leone (POSL).

The challenges of a digital environment aren’t new to government but are daunting. Consider that Siloes operations, legacy systems and a lack of visibility into virtual networks have set in place strenuous, unnecessary processes that consume countless time and resources.

Also, internal and external security vulnerabilities mean that the government must work to mitigate potential threats to protect citizen data.

Next, agencies must work to remedy the insufficient processes that most citizens experience when interacting with the government online.

And finally, the shortage of qualified candidates for the incoming workforce is a major obstacle, as these tech experts will become the lifeblood of a digitally capable government.

1.Help agencies modernize software and support the Internet of Things (IoT) – Replacing outdated paper systems allows agencies to spend money smarter and more efficiently, enabling projects that will directly benefit citizens, such as education initiatives and public infrastructure improvements.

Embracing IoT and IT modernization reduces siloes within the government and provides digital footprints for auditors. This will help improve citizen services as they increase information sharing and address common government challenges, such as inefficient application processes, corruption, and insufficient online resources.

2.Encourage a cultural shift that embraces cloud usage – Independent contractors are key to developing IT in government as they present solutions, software, and expertise that are secure, trusted and proven. Promoting programs such as Gov-ramp allows government agencies to access private contractors who offer cloud solutions to ensure they meet high-security standards.

3.Foster an environment that encourages innovation and forward-thinking – It is imperative for agencies to appeal to the next generation of their workforce. These individuals are well-versed in the latest technologies and provide in-demand IT skills that will bolster government capabilities with renewed insight and expertise.

4.Establish stronger security standards – Strengthening security for data storage and management in government will instil trust in the public. Heightened security will ensure that critical citizen data, such as healthcare records, financial information, and NASIT security numbers, are uncompromised.

5.Implement automation and data analytics to streamline services – Automation reduces maintenance costs and cuts the time needed to maintain IT systems. This enables agencies to allocate additional resources toward citizen-focused IT enhancements, such as speeding up online response times and increasing the transparency of interactions.

6.Tap into the private sector for innovative ideas and practices – The hypothetical Office of Sierra Leone Innovation would show that this administration understands how the private sector opens government to ideas, concepts, technologies and information sharing capabilities that were previously inaccessible. For government IT to evolve, this administration must continue to consult the private sector for solutions to the toughest technology issues (my expert opinion is free).

Strong development in these six sectors—or even a few of them, would alter the way citizens of Sierra Leone interact with agencies and experience government services.

Such changes can enhance cyber, networking, security capabilities while improving overall agency functions, education, health care, infrastructure, and citizen services across government.

It is my opinion that this administration can improve the government’s digital identity and bolster its reputation across the country.

By investing in public-facing digital technologies that facilitate the user experience, this administration can remind the nation that the government exists foremost, to help them.

9 Comments

  1. The proposals and recommendations highlighted by Mr. Johnson are indeed needed if our nation is to compete in this age of technology. However, like many have pointed out, the hard truth is that, our nation currently lacks even the basic infrastructure to kickstart such a venture. As we speak our nation is still struggling to provide regular electricity supply even in the capital not to mention other parts of the country.

    To implement or even consider most of Mr. Johnson’s proposal, there will need to be an existing terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure such as underground cabling (fiber, coax or UTP) or microwave transmission, connecting diverse areas across the nation. Currently, none of these exist, not even Freetown has this basic IT infrastructure.

    Almost all internet services in the nation are implemented via satellite transmission — the least preferable, inefficient, and lowest transmission bandwidth among all other forms of data transmission. Huge investment will need to be made in other to lay these technological infrastructures.

    The question is, should our government prioritize this aspect among the countless desperate needs our nation has to fulfill?

  2. I once heard some rowdy deep sea fishermen say jokingly that to measure the size and weight of a giant sea turtle,you will have to wait patiently until it sticks its tiny,hesitating head out.(lol) Well,my friends,since I first set my eyes on this article,I had serious doubts concerning the ideas,stances,beliefs,and positions Mr Johnson was holding,and trying anxiously to validate and promote on this glorious forum. But Patience and Prudence demanded that I show restraint,and wait until he overplayed his hand.And he did!

    Now step aside Honorable Abdul Rashid Thomas,stay alert,watch,and observe cautiously. First things first,after reading the comments of the writer,I had no other option,but to conclude that his experience comes only from studying the contents of books – clear signals that he is totally oblivious,and disconnected from everyday realities of life in Sierra Leone. I mean seriously,how can someone,anyone, with their thinking caps on boldly declare,that advanced technology we cannot afford is the only viable answer to our economic well-being and prosperity?

    Sir,of what benefit is advanced technology to a nation still chained,shackled,and locked down securely in the dark ages? Can technology create an environment devoid of tribalism,occultism,witchcraft,drug abuse,prostitution,all of those,social ills that are eroding the moral fabric of our beloved nation today?

    The question on our minds should be,how do we build a peaceful,highly organised,and sustainable society,with the tools we can AFFORD? Again,where is the money coming from to transform Sierra Leone into technologically advanced nation? Will another unscrupulous hundredth marriage to the IMF suffice for you Sir! (lol)

    Furthermore, belittling and calling struggling, hardworking citizens lazy, and outrightly conclude with contempt that they are hungry because of their dependence on government for handouts sounds offensive, shocking and preposterous to me. Who pays taxes when they don’t have a job? And where are the loans and incentives for young entrepreneurs to establish and create thriving businesses? A Nationwide strategic implementation of advanced technology will be very expensive and our poor nation cannot afford it at this time…Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  3. Oh Mr. Johnson, I believe you are a supporter of neoliberalism and the idea “every man is the architect of his own fortune”. But the reality looks a little else. And in our short life, technology is not all.

  4. I hope that the parliament will work with the executive branch which has already committed to transform our system from analog to digital systems, so we can be competitive in the 21st century.

  5. Its always refreshing to know that we have a pragmatic voice like Mr Wiecha on this glorious forum. Nuff respect for your sincere, unbiased, thoughtful contributions and insights Sir! Now let me make things a little clearer! This nation of ours is still crawling, and is in the infant stages of progress. And what do suckling infants need the most to thrive, grow and survive? Milk of course!

    I beg to differ with the writer, as I wholeheartedly insist and emphasize that a nation wallowing in corruption and drowning in abject poverty like our own, needs to first take little baby steps, like providing food, healthcare and affordable housing for its people. The writer should know that you cannot fly with ease, strength and great speed if you have never crawled, walked, or ran ever before.

    There are stages to lasting, credible development Sir, and utmost priority must be given to the most pressing of them all; creating and promoting a digital atmosphere with our meagre resources is not a smart idea, in hard times like these at all. Firstly, lets make it our national goal to become self sufficient, responsible citizens by reducing our imports through prudent ways by which we grow our own staple foods, and thereby make Sierra Leone into a nation where no one ever goes to bed hungry; where the sick, disabled, elderly and mentally ill are well taken care of.

    The time for us to invest heavily in technological and digital advancements will surely come, but sadly, sincerely, that day is still many years away. Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  6. Thank you very much Dr. Johnson for your brilliant article. I believe our country must first of all be SELF SUFFICIENT in both ELECTRICITY and INTERNET ACCESS before fully engaging in TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION. Also, and if the government is serious, both can be done side by side. To be fair with President Bio and his ADMINISTRATION, he has tried his best when it comes to TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION. I applaud him for that.

    Bottom line, this President is just OBSESSED with TECHNOLOGY. I always wonder why he did not study science at school. Was it because he was afraid of MATHEMATICS, ADDITIONAL MATHEMATICS and PHYSICS? I hope not. Don’t mind me Mr. President for being so boring for the question I just asked. Another problem to look into is the DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES facing our country. The people need good food, housing, good and affordable healthcare, quality water supply and the list goes on and on.

    Yes, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION is a very good thing but, HOW and WHEN should we look into it in the first place will be challenging. Our approach to it will also be very crucial. Thank you as always Dr. Johnson for you contribution on one of the most RESPECTED, NOBLE AND GLORIOUS PLATFORMS. GOD BLESS YOU.

  7. Dear Mr. Johnson, where do you live? USA, Britain or Freetown? Digital evolution or revolution is the priority for people in Sierra Leone? I don’t think so. Most of the people are hungry and the majority have no access to electricity.

    • Perhaps Mr.Johnson is in the business of selling cool stories and a fancy language – to an audience who he may have led to believe would have trouble grappling with the meaning behind the words he writes. lol

    • I am in agreement with Alusine Fallay, Saidu Conteh, Sahr Matturi, Reinhardn Wiecha, and Mahmoud Kaloko. We do not realize our myopic dreams for our lives when they die at impression; we refuse to take bolder risks. Our dreams die the very minute they are birth. All the concerns for electricity, food, and healthcare are all embedded in technology. Technology is the driving tool for economic prosperity.

      Our dependency on the government for our provisions has narrowed our thinking faculties of ourselves as agents deserving of our own developments. The government provides services, making sure infrastructures for economic improvement are in place, protecting, and serving its citizens. We are hungry because we rely on government handouts and our practicing laziness by relying on the central government to take care of us. It is NOT the job of the government to take care of anybody!

      Our job as citizens of Sierra Leone are to be better examples in the societies we live in, work hard to take care of our loved ones, and pay taxes so the central government can provide the services and infrastructures needed for economic growth. We need to transform our narratives of critical thinking habits. Our attachment to political affiliations has caused our myopic view of government.

      We lack employment because we lack the needed infrastructures for sustainable investments, which is one duty of government. You are paying the government to provide needed services for its citizens. Contact your representatives so they implement the improvements everybody can experience. Learn from Rwanda! 

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