Judith Phiri, Business Reporter
THE Government has reaffirmed its commitment to support the digitalisation agenda, with $56,7 billion to be allocated in 2023 from the budget to cater for various e-Government programmes.
The global digital economy continues to impact every sector and the daily lives of people, accounting for 15,5 percent of the world’s overall Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is expected to reach 25 percent in less than a decade. The Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector is expected to grow by 8,3 percent in 2022, with average growth projections of 2,5 percent between 2023 and 2025, mostly driven by mobile voice traffic and internet data.
Recently presenting the 2023 National Budget Statement, Finance and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube said to fully benefit from this rapid growth, and to drive digital transformation of the economy, investments in enabling infrastructure, skills, financial services and entrepreneurship needed to be upscaled.
“Overall budget support for the digitalisation agenda, during 2023 amounts to 56.7 billion, to cater for various e-Government programmes, expanding the backbone infrastructure, and other related programmes. In terms of digital infrastructure, fibre optic backbone infrastructure, currently connects major cities and urban areas, with the rural areas still to be connected. Furthermore, the last-mile fixed infrastructure deployments to end-user premises have been limited, forcing most users to rely on costly mobile networks in accessing the internet,” said Prof Ncube.
He said resultantly, mobile operators remain the main providers of broadband connections, with an estimated combined population coverage of 93,4 percent for 2G mobile networks, 83,9 percent for 3G networks, and 34,9 percent for LTE networks.
The Minister said Government will continue to support infrastructure sharing as a strategy of opening access and limiting duplication of ICT infrastructure, with the savings being redirected towards under-served communities.
“Through the Universal Services Fund (USF), Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) will further expand the network in underserved areas, increasing the presence of mobile networks in rural areas, deployment of a microwave radio back-haul network, telemedicine, internet connectivity for schools, e-learning, and the building of Community Information Centres.”
Prof Ncube said these interventions were consistent with Government’s thrust of leaving no-one and no place behind.
He said measures towards an appropriate tariff (cost reflective but affordable tariff) will incentivise new investments by private players, thereby increasing competition and reducing costs, which will drive demand for broadband services.
Among other key projects, the Minister said under e-Government, Government’s digital platforms, such as the Human Resources Management Information System (HRMIS), and the payroll and pensions systems, will facilitate the uptake of technologies and the digital economy.
He said they also help drive public sector operational efficiencies and reduces opportunities for fraud, corruption, as well as increases accountability.
“Most Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) have established separate own digital platforms, which operate largely in isolation from each other, resulting in fragmentation and a fractured landscape of digital systems and services, making interoperability and data sharing between systems difficult.
Through the e-Government Standards Development Technical Working Group, Government is establishing a framework to standardise the procurement and operation of ICT systems within the public service, including strengthening coordination between the various MDAs, adopting an interoperability framework, consolidating all digital services, and investing in institutional and human ICT capacity.”
The Minister said Government will also accelerate public sector digitalisation at national and sub-national levels to improve access, service delivery and curb corruption by increasing the number of online services across all line ministries. He said parastatals will also be incentivised to digitalise their systems.
To sustain the current public sector systems development and improvements, the Minister said: “Fiscal outlays of ZW$1,3 billion will go towards e-Government interventions during 2023.”