AS THE country is battling to deal with the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, government has been using various ways to disseminate information and deal with the scourge.
Against this background, our Daily News on Sunday reporter Tendai Kamhungira spoke to Information Communication Technology minister Jenfan Muswere on how government was using ICTs in the fight against the pandemic as well as how State parastatals under his ministry have been performing.
Q: What is government doing to assist Telecel, following claims the company is on the brink of collapse?
A: Telecel is not on the brink of collapse, but has been affected by a myriad of factors, mainly internal challenges which we are solving. The government is making extensive strides to recapitalise Telecel as part of the turnaround strategy.
The turnaround strategy recognises the need for a paradigm shift from a traditional Telco/Mobile Network operator (MNO) model to an integrated and smart communications solutions provider that will deliver a digital lifestyle for all Zimbabweans.
Q: We recently saw NetOne board members resigning enmasse, what is happening at the State company?
A: These are housekeeping issues, NetOne board members resigned in accordance to the Public Entities and Corporate Governance Act. NetOne is operating normally and is poised for a great turnaround.
Q: State enterprises under your ministry have been dogged with corruption allegations, what are you doing to deal with the scourge?
A: The Second Republic’s thrust is on zero tolerance to corruption and good corporate governance. As a ministry we want to ensure that all State Enterprises and Parastatals (SEPs) under the ministry’s purview abide by these principles. To that effect we have set clear targets for each SEP, which are evaluated on a quarterly basis. We have since held first quarter meetings with boards of these SEPs to evaluate their performance and turnaround strategies.
Q: What is your comment on the issue of data prices compared to the region?
A: Research that has been done through our regulator Potraz has shown that our data prices are among the lowest in the region in USD dollar terms. In regulating tariffs, Potraz uses the cost-based principle, which is the most objective criteria for determining tariffs.
Accordingly, as a way of curbing unjustified high data tariffs, Potraz has resorted to the Telecommunications Price Index (TPI) to track cost movements in the provision of telecommunication services since January 2019.
Prior to that, Potraz was using the results of the Long Run Incremental Costing (LRIC) methodology to set thresholds for telecommunication services, including data tariffs.
The use of the TPI was necessitated by the need to facilitate quick decision making in cost-based principle for decisions on tariff adjustments.
The major cost items included in the computation of the TPI include: network repair and maintenance costs, depreciation, salaries and staff costs, utilities and administration costs, rental costs, fuel costs, marketing and advertising, research and development, financing costs, capital expenditure costs, and foreign exchange losses.
Q: What achievements have you scored since being appointed the ICT minister?
A: Five months after my appointment, I believe we have made significant strides in our quest to transform Zimbabwe into a knowledge-based society. Key among those achievements have been the crafting and deployment of the SMART Zimbabwe 2030 Masterplan and the digital infrastructure plan which clearly articulates the ICT Sector’s contribution to Vision 2030.
Some of the deliverables that have come out are as follows: gazetting of the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, gazetting of Statutory Instrument (SI) 80 of 2020, Banking (Money Transmission, Mobile Banking and Mobile Money Interoperability) Regulations on 27 March 2020 to encourage interoperability amongst the various mobile money platforms, computation of tariffs using TPI which is the telecoms pricing index to ensure business viability and consumer affordability and protection, public and private sector growth in the ICT Industry, deployment of paperless Cabinet for efficient and effective management of information, brought sanity to State Enterprises and parastatals under the ministry’s purview, infrastructure sharing among telecom operators, deployment of the Safe City Project that has seen the use of camera technology for human and motor traffic monitoring, development of the SMART Agriculture blueprint, coordinated the contribution of the ICT sector to the Covid-19 pandemic and zero tolerance to corruption.
Q: How have you been using ICT in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic?
A: The efficacy of digital technologies in the enforcement of lockdown regulations and social distancing measures in the country deserves huge acclaim and recognition. As part of the response to the global crisis, the country has leveraged ICT platforms as a pedestal to: promote social distancing through telecoms services, establishment of the Covid-19 Clinical call centre and the Covid 2023 non clinical call centre with all Telecoms players both in the public and private sector, contact tracing technology, E-commerce platforms that support WHO regulations on social distancing, Zimpost has an e-commerce platform, enable the continued provision of services by telecommuting (work from home), easily access finances through mobile money platforms, conduct business through virtual meetings or conferencing (together but apart), facilitate the tracing of contacts and provide educational material via online learning platforms through ICT companies both in the public and private sectors.
Q: How have you been using the e-learning platforms and how far have you penetrated the country?
A: As a ministry we have been involved in the deployment of ICT equipment including laptops, projectors, printers and connectivity to schools under the e-learning initiative. We are currently working with the ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to develop e-learning platforms particularly as we face the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for the moment we are making sure that there is uninterrupted connectivity to support any e-learning initiatives that some schools might be using.
Q: Which ICT projects are you currently involved in as a ministry?
A: The ministry has been actively involved in ICT projects to better the livelihoods of the Zimbabwean populace. Some of these projects include
a)The e-learning project
The ministry has been distributing a minimum of 20 laptops to many schools as well as ensuring that the beneficiary schools are connected. This year alone rural schools have benefited across all the provinces of the country. The ministry has also gone further to train the teachers on the use of ICTs.
b) Community Information Centres
The ministry is also leading the Community Information Centres (CIC) project where the thrust is to provide access to ICTs especially in areas where such facilities may be beyond the reach of many. We are now upgrading the CICs to ensure that they become the e-government pedestal on G2G, G2P and G2C to enhance service delivery , The CICs will be utilised to facilitate business , application of birth certificates , business licences , etc
c) ICT infrastructure Development
We are rolling out a number of infrastructure projects as a sector and the overall goal being development of ICT infrastructure to ensure ubiquitous connectivity to all the geographical areas of the country. We also hope to deploy 5G as other countries are doing in order to increase speed and capacity of connectivity.
d) The Smart Zimbabwe Initiative
This is a multi-sectoral project where the drive is to develop smart solutions leveraging ICTs in agriculture, health, transportation, waste management and traffic control among others. As we speak the Ministry has partnered other stakeholders in the installation of surveillance cameras to rid the city of traffic offenders and improve its general management.
It is also interesting to note that the ministry also played a key role in the telemedicine project which was piloted in Manicaland and more importantly is taking a centre stage in developing e-solutions to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. We should also see our agriculture output increasing through the smart solutions under this initiative.
e) Artificial Intelligence
In the near future we also would want to work on more projects involving Artificial Intelligence and data analytics in order to increase the level of effective decision making and efficient accomplishment of tasks in increasing productivity, cost cutting, product standardisation and efficient utilisation of labour through re-skilling.
Q: I understand you are also assisting technopreneurs in bringing new innovations, how far have you gone with this initiative?
A: My ministry, through Potraz has set up the ICT Innovation Drive which is aimed at assisting youths who have bankable innovations to develop their ideas into solutions that are capable of solving socio-economic challenges facing the country. Whilst in the past, the Innovation Drive was only assisting the youth through provision of loans, it is now also assisting in the form of grants through a revised model which incorporates Hackathons and the issuance of grants to Innovation Hubs, especially those at universities. All these efforts are aimed at supporting the ideas and innovations of our youths.