Analysis: PETER SICHINSAMBWE
INFORMATION Communication Technology is driving Zambia forward and ensuring a seamless integration of systems and process as well as creating new opportunities for business.
The ICT sector underpins everything that happens in the economy and it is essential for consumers and business in the country. ICTs have transformed how business operates, how people manage their purchasing and finances, find and carry out their jobs, access public services, participate in communities and how they experience learning, culture, leisure, social networking and entertainment.
During the 2018 national budget address Mr Mutati informed the nation that to improve ICT infrastructure, Government will invest in, and upgrade telecommunications networks, data centres and access devices through the Smart Zambia Master Plan. This will improve the flow of information within and among Government institutions, enterprises and citizens to bring about social and economic benefits. This is also aimed at transforming Government’s mode of delivery of public services from traditional face-to-face interactions to online channels to ensure that citizens and business entities can access services anywhere and anytime.
The Government through its Smart Zambia initiatives has identified Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a major driver for socio-economic Growth. Under the Smart Zambia initiatives, the Government through partnerships with the private sector and other stakeholders made progress in the ICT sector in 2017. As part of the Smart Zambia Master Plan and the 7NDP, the Government through the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) has in the prior years’ commissioned Huawei to build 204 towers across 10 provinces in Zambia.
In the second quarter of 2017, the Government through a partnership with EXIM Bank of China secured a US$280 million loan to facilitate the construction of additional mobile towers in 2018. This undertaking aims to improve access to ICT services and the Governments’ ability to provide services to the wider Zambian population. It is expected that by the end of 2018, the government would have funded a total of 1,009 towers.
The adoption of ICT and use of technologies service delivery by the Government has resulted in both savings and increased revenue collection, for Example, in 2017; the Government devised a framework to eliminate challenges over the e-voucher system and also undertook a clean-up to remove ghost beneficiaries and duplicates. As a result of this exercise, the Government saved K1 billion. In the 2017/2018 farming season, the Government plans to fully adopt and migrate to e-voucher system to cover one million farmers. Secondly, the National Tolling Program – ICT continues to play an important role in complementing the Government’s’ efforts in raising revenue. The Government successfully constructed toll gates and implemented ICT systems to support revenue collection. In first half of 2017, the Government raised K490.5 million.
The unremitting pace of technological development has made a profound impact on business, government and society. It is evident that in today’s fast-moving corporate world, information and communication technologies (ICTs) are fundamental to the operation and growth of any organisation. Government agencies have embarked on modernisation programmes to catch up with these technological advances and their adoption by Zambian business and the general public. Some of the institutions are Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), National Pensions Scheme Authority (NAPSA), ZECH and Patents and Company Registrations Agency (PACRA) just to mention a few.
ZRA introduced a new web-based system called Tax Online in its Domestic Taxes division designed to make compliance easier. Tax Online offers e-registration, e-filing, e-payment and e-dissemination of the information users need to conduct virtually all business with ZRA. The introduction of online business registration by PACRA and also the creation of the one-stop shop have made things easy for entrepreneurs. All these ICT systems are promoted to enhance the efficiency of revenue administration, improve the national payment system and enhance service delivery and easy in doing business.
Despite this progress, there are still some challenges connected with the ICT industry in Zambia. The cost of doing business in the ICT industry is steep and as a result the price of accessing the internet is so high. High tax rates of over 16 percent imposed on the importation of fundamental components of ICT such as laptops, servers, transmitters etc. ISPs spend a lot of money in providing internet to the public and as such they are forced to charge higher prices to cover costs. According to ICT Research Africa, “The government’s policy decision to restrict market entry to existing players is a setback to the sector. To effectively address these challenges ZICTA needs to enhance its credibility and realise its autonomy by building on its competencies, transparency and predictability in decision-making. Much work remains to ensure that the legal and regulatory framework works in order to nurture an environment which stimulates increased investment in the sector.”
In order to effectively police the industry and work on some of these challenges faced out by the providers and consumers. The authority has finalised partnership agreement with the Zambia Police Service who have opened a forensic laboratory to fight cyber-crime in the financial sector in order to protect businesses.
ICTs can help to contribute to the country’s economy by reducing transaction costs, increasing business efficiency and improving educational standards. Zambia can learn from other countries, for instance, the growth of Kenya’s economy has mainly been based on tourism and the sector’s growth has been sustained and supported by the liberalisation of the ICT market and government’s efforts in making the country an ICT hub in the region.
Local and foreign companies have invested millions of dollars in the ICT sector and this has helped to expose the country’s tourism to the outside world. Based on this, the Government plans to continue to invest in ICT including telecoms, data centres and up-scaling ICT skills and intends to leverage on Smart Zambia initiatives to promote the use of information and communication technologies to improve the economy, enhance productivity and service delivery in 2018 and beyond. ICT has the potential to increase economic activity in the country and raise the competitiveness of local business in a knowledge-based economy.
God bless this great country Zambia and its leadership.
The author is an economist/chartered accountant.