Letter to Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma

22 December 2007 at 22:27 | 1162 views

“Sierra Leone needs a first class Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) industry”

By Amadu Barrie - Secretary, Association of Sierra Leonean Journalists in Exile (ASALJIE) Australia Incorporated and Canberra Branch Executive Member, Australian Computer Society (ACS).

22nd December, 2007

Your Excellency,

First, I would like to congratulate you on being elected as president.

The news on Freetown having the lights turned on again is a positive development that was well received by your folks here in Australia!

A reliable power supply is the cornerstone to building a better Sierra Leone. More encouraging is your belief that development cannot be realised without utilising the investment vehicle; this means an open and less regulated economy and a booming private sector with government playing the role of impartial umpire. I hope and pray that your stewardship will bring more light to the life of our people.

Secondly, I would like to take this opportunity to use this widely used and ubiquitous forum by colleague Sierra Leoneans to draw your attention to what I believe is not only an important tool to your political program but an architecture that will help Sierra Leone yield positive returns on investment and prepare us for the long haul into the future in parity with the developed world - Information Communication and Technology (ICT).

As a start, your program or vision for the country is great and so far you have got the priorities right during your first 100 days in office. The next challenge is the campaign on corruption and making life as decent as it can be for our folks. There is no gainsaying that “having the right people at the top will yield better results”.

Achieving the desired results is also dependent on the environment the game is played; political will, culture, security and the technology that go with it. Technology is an enabler towards desired outcomes.

Your Excellency,

My little contribution is to urge you to encourage investments in the ICT industry and for your government to take the leadership role. You should put in place an ICT infrastructure in the public service with a focus on having all departments’ IT systems integrated into one central repository. This will make any update(s) on the central database, for example, about a deceased or dismissed staff member, number of staff in the Government’s pay roll , study, sick and travel allowances, to name but a few will be automatically replicated in all integrated secondary (departmental) databases. What other better way to accountability and transparency?

Once you declare that ICT is going to be an integral part of your program, the private sector will run with it. The immediate results will be a streamlined, efficient, cost effective and well trained staff in the public service sector.

Currently, we do not even have ICT strategies or policies for systems that can monitor staff attendance effectively let alone for taxation purposes, etc. To say such an environment is fraught with inefficiencies, lack of transparency and accountability, poor decision making, red tape, exhorbitant costs, unclear roles and responsibilities, low morale, prone to abuse, malpractices, corruption and out of touch with present day administrative know-how, is nothing short of an understatement.

Sierra Leone needs a buoyant ICT industry that is effective, efficient and empowering for the public and private sectors. It’s never too late to embrace ICT. A networked society is one that is transparent, flexible, accountable and less expensive to run. This will improve our image to the rest of the world and make it easier to adapt to challenges in the global environment in all areas including health, banking, education, science, social security, insurance, agriculture, utility services, mining, small business, the environment, etc. It will make us the ideal environment for foreign investment.

Despite all these benefits, we know that adopting modern ICT in Sierra Leone cannot come overnight. It deserves careful planning and execution and above all, the government of the day will have to make it work. You can start by setting up ICT working groups or committees either in or outside parliament made up of public and private sector interest groups to undertake a study on how to implement such a program.

ICT is one area that no government in the 21st Century can afford to ignore. We can have effective IT systems that are simpler and better integrated than their Western counterparts. Unlike Western democracies, we do not have legacy systems to drive us nuts if we undertake such a task because we will be starting from a clean slate!

The advantages of this (although I would have preferred having legacy systems like in the West) is the power to bargain with the ICT service providers, companies and vendors in getting the latest of software in the market with great interconnectivity functions (web and database applications), speed, ease to upgrade, flexible contracts.

Certain things will have to be in place for such an initiative to take hold:

(a) Willingness on the part of government;

(b) Encourage investment in the ICT industry;

(c) Introduce current ICT programs at all school levels with internationally recognised accreditation.

(d) Encourage academic institutions to set up local organizations and work with international ICT organisations, companies/ vendors;

(e) Set a realistic timeframe on goals to be achieved;

In conclusion, I believe an effective ICT industry within the Sierra Leone Public Service will send a clear message that the government is putting up the right architecture in place to implementing its policies with zero tolerance on corruption, transparency, accountability and a modern and flexible economy.

I believe this is one strategy that the West will be proud to be aligned with. I am optimistic that this is a system that will work perfectly and help government collect every tax cent by closing many holes within our outdated administrative systems.

Note: This discussion is not about which hardware or software product to go for. It is intended to encourage people to discuss ICT!

Long live Sierra Leone and May God bless us all.

Amadu Barrie.

Photo: Amadu and daughter Israellah at home in Canberra, Australia.