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Former President John Dramani Mahama's understanding of a digital economy is outstanding and puts him far ahead of his closest competitor in the 2020 Presidential elections. His understanding found expression in his Government's implementation of ICT programmes and projects most of which have lived beyond his term of office and continue to accelerate the development of Ghana.
Mr. Mahama believes in the spread, integration and utilization of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to automate public and private sector operations, enhance Ghana's economic competitiveness with the rest of the world and improve upon living standards of Ghanaians. For him, every aspect of a digital economy lies at the heart of these two main components:
- Digital (ICT) Infrastructure.
- Digital (ICT) Applications.
And he worked very hard to deploy both massive digital infrastructure and its applications. These digital interventions have made life more convenient for millions of Ghanaians and enabled critical services to be extended to the needy in remote and underserved communities. They have also accounted for the increase in productivity and improvement of the working environment of workers in both the public and private sectors.
1 Digital Infrastructure
To begin with, Digital Infrastructure is the foundation of every digital economy therefore, during his tenure, President Mahama built the most robust and efficient infrastructure in the country since independence. This was to meet our digital transformational goals and objectives. Indeed, given four more years in office, based on his solid digital infrastructure, he would have built a new and modernized ICT-compliant Ghana.
His legacy of robust digital infrastructure includes but not limited to:
- About 1000km of Rural Fibre Network from Accra to Bawku which connects six regions in the country; namely: Greater Accra, Volta, Oti, Northern, North East and Upper East regions. This provides the internet and voice call needs of millions of Ghanaians and thousands of businesses along that route. Furthermore, at no additional cost to the State, this fibre network was also extended to the University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS) to facilitate research, teaching and learning.
- A 300km radius Metro Fibre Network within Accra and Tema, with the capacity to offer Wi-Fi and other ICT services to millions of Ghanaians and businesses within the enclave was also deployed.
- An LTE/4G network with over 119 base stations across the length and breadth of Ghana, to provide internet services and network backbone support to all Government agencies (Ministries, Departments, Districts, etc.) was also rolled out. Indeed, the LTE/4G driven GOTA phones is the terminal equipment for these 119 base stations which the Mahama administration rolled out.
- The GOTA phones have been used by many security, civil and public servants; and has even been applied towards innovative attempts to reduce maternal mortality in the Greater Accra Region.
- Regional Distribution of the LTE/4G Sites
- The biggest Tier-3 600-Rackspace Data Centre in West Africa located in Accra, with a 45 Rackspace back-up on the campus of KNUST, Kumasi is another legacy of President Mahama. This data centre ensures data storage (documents, videos, audio, biometric, etc.), web hosting and serving the cyber security needs of the country. It also protects and preserves the sanctity of the data of every Ghanaian.
- The imposing headquarters building of the National Communication Authority to promote efficient regulation of telecommunication services in the country, especially with the monitoring of the quality of voice calls and internet services offered to millions of Ghanaians by Telecommunication companies is one such achievement of the Mahama administration.
- The development of the Accra Digital Centre intended to provide about ten thousand (10, 000) jobs to the youth at full capacity. Today, it serves as the incubation hub for established businesses and start-ups, a preferred professional examination location, as well as an online passport application centre. Thanks to President Mahama, this digital centre serves thousands of Ghanaians every day regardless of their location.
2 Additional Benefits of the Impressive Digital Infrastructure Network
This Digital infrastructure has enhanced the penetration and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in all sectors of our economy: Education, Health, Transportation, and Agriculture among others. It has also made the average Ghanaian more competitive with his or her counterparts in this digital revolution age, especially in the outsourcing job market.
As a result of these massive interventions in Ghana's digital space:
- Mobile networks in Ghana are leveraging on the rural fibre from Accra to Bawku and 4G/LTEs to provide last-mile better data and voice services in several underserved communities, towns and cities across the country. This makes it possible for millions of residents (farmers, students, teachers, entrepreneurs…) in cities, towns, rural and underserved communities to access social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. They are also able to do long-distance video calls with their families and loved ones abroad.
- Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country can extend their coverage to businesses and homes through this network. For commercial purposes, Telcos hardly extend their networks to communities with a smaller number of residents. This deprives several Ghanaians of access to internet and voice call services. But today, courtesy of John Mahama, ISPs can bridge this digital gap and offer these services to residents and private businesses – restaurants, hotels, private schools hospitals and homes.
- The National Emergency Call number 112, was established. It is responding to the critical needs of citizens and helping in the control, management and prevention of disasters. Additionally, it has proved useful in these COVID-19 times. Since March of this year, 2020, this 112 number has recorded more than two million calls for all kinds of requests from citizens across the country.
- Government has been networked (Flagstaff House, Ministries, Metropolitan, Municipal, District Assemblies, quasi-government Agencies, etc.) through the LTE/4G and Fibre Networks for data and voice services. This project comes with a significant annual cost reduction to the tune of about GH¢100 million; it also enhances the productivity of public and civil servants as they enjoy high-speed internet connection and offer service to millions of Ghanaians.
- The National Data Centre Network is comprehensively addressing our data storage and security needs on the ‘.GH' internet extension and exchange platform; which provides us with our unique domain names and Email resources as a country. In effect, all websites with the ‘. com.gh' and ‘. gov.gh' extensions emanate from this platform. This has maintained the security of public and private transactions, as well as the protection of data of the people of Ghana from unauthorized users.
- Some private businesses in the financial, insurance, IT and E-Commerce industries can save millions of dollars annually by hosting and storing their data, websites/Apps, E-mails and other systems locally through the National Data Centre.
- Tertiary and Second Cycle institutions across the country have been automated for effective teaching and learning including distance learning at the tertiary level. In collaboration with the World Bank, 200 Senior High Schools were selected for this exercise between 2015 and 2016.
- Public Wi-Fi services were activated in Accra on the back of the 300km radius Metro Fibre network. This initiative was piloted at Accra Technical University, Terminal-3 Airport and Tema Transport station in 2016.
- Several enhanced Community Information Centres (eCICs) were constructed across the country not only to bridge the digital divide but also to improve the digital competencies of Ghana's vibrant youth workforce. This has provided the digital space for many Ghanaians in deprived areas to apply for basic services such as birth certificates, passports, drivers' license and register businesses online; it eliminates the need to travel to regional capitals or Accra and saves millions of citizens the additional time, energy and money they used to spend to acquire these important documents every day.
- The multimillion-dollar eTransform ICT project was negotiated to enhance E-Governance projects such as: E-Justice, E-Procurement, E-Health, E-Parliament, E-Education, and E-Workspace, among others.
- Some public and civil service activities were automated through the E-Workspace and Learning Management Systems platforms for the efficient management of Government resources and hundreds of Public and Civil service personnel were trained over a 2 year-period.
3 Digital Applications
Over and above the aforementioned benefits being derived from the NDC's massive digital infrastructure achievements, John Mahama's Digital Applications record is unmatched. Digital Applications ride on the back of robust digital infrastructure and hold the most significant potential for job creation, security enhancement and delivery of social welfare services.
Digital Applications encompass two main interlinked components:
- E-Commerce; and
In furtherance of E-Commerce – business transactions that take place on the internet – President Mahama ensured the integration of digital applications into private and public business processes to achieve greater efficiency, timely and effective service delivery to citizens.
His achievements, in this regard, can be grouped as follows:
- Government to Government (G2G).
- Government to Citizens (G2C).
- Government to Business (G2B)
To begin with, the Government to Government (G2G) initiatives included:
- 24/7 Broadband Internet Access for all MMDAs.
- Automation of Government Agencies through a Wide Area Network (WAN) Infrastructure backbone.
- Web Hosting, domain registration and E-mail (.com.gh and .gov.gh) for all Government entities
- Enterprise document management System for the archiving, retrieval perusal and management of critical Government documents.
Furthermore, the Government to Citizens (G2C) initiatives, called E-Services, have improved the quality of services rendered by Government to citizens and harmonized and enhanced cooperation between the public bodies providing them. By so doing, human contacts are being removed, contributing significantly to the reduction of corrupt practices that have always characterized citizens' requests or applications for basic everyday needs like birth certificates, passports, drivers' licenses etc.
Specifically, the E-services platform www.eservices.gov.gh, which has since been integrated into www.epay.gov.gh platform provides a one-stop shop for all citizens regardless of location to apply for basic services online without having to join long queues and ransack Government agencies for them.
This has ultimately saved time, money and energy millions of Ghanaians would have expended on travelling from their villages and districts to secure such services. It has also significantly reduced the middlemen, popularly known as ‘Goro boys', who charge exorbitant fees for their illegal activities.
With this platform, citizens are able to digitally apply for passports, birth certificates, and driver's license, register their business from the Registrar general's department, request both marriage certificates and police background check reports and most importantly, conveniently file and pay taxes.
The Births & Deaths Registry (BDR), Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), Driver & Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), Registrar General Department, Ghana Police Criminal Investigation Department and Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) are some of the agencies on this platform.
Added to the www.eservices.gov.gh was an electronic payment gateway www.epay.gov.gh.
This was developed to facilitate the payment for all transactions requested by applicants.
The E-payment gateway has the capacity to accept various payment types such as:
- Debit/Credit Cards (international) – VISA
- Debit/Credit Cards (Local – Ghana)
- Mobile Money (MTN, VODAFONE, AIRTEL/TIGO)
- Cheques, Cash, and Bank Transfer payments
As of October 2016, there had been 23,333 total transactions and an amount of GHC168, 973,528.54 had been collected for eight MMDAs. As mentioned earlier, both www.eservices.gov.gh and www.epay.gov.gh have been combined into one website. So, all e-eservices can now be accessed from www.epay.gov.gh.
In furtherance of E-Commerce, Government to Business (G2B) initiatives have also been enhanced through John Mahama's vision to provide digital infrastructure to enhance the capacity of Telcos.
E-Government (Digital applications) was a collaboration between the Government of Ghana and the World Bank. Actual implementation of the various modules of E-Government started in 2009. Pilot roll out of E-workspace, E-Health, E-Cabinet, and E-Justice had been successfully completed before John Mahama left office in 2016.
On E-Workspace, the main objectives of John Mahama were to, among other things:
- Run a paperless governance system and reduce the time and energy public and civil servants spend on printing or photocopying documents;
- Improve data and information access for decision-making, which ultimately will help with the right-to-information agenda;
- Increase productivity for public and civil servants for the benefit of millions of Ghanaians on the demand side; and
- Ensure transparency and accountability in Government's administrative records.
The Project deployed over hundred Portal Content Management (PCM) systems and hundred HP Scanjet Enterprise Flow s2 high volume scanners for some selected MMDAs.
Some of these MMDAs were: Ministry of Communication (MoC), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI), Judicial Service, Public Services Commission, Ghana Investment Promotion Commission, Ghana Revenue Authority, Ghana Police Service, Ghana Highway Authority, Lands Commission, UPSA and PRAAD, all Ministries and other MDAs. The components of the PCM systems were: Intranet Portals, Meeting Management Systems, Document and correspondence Management Systems.
In addition, special user training sessions were also held for some selected personnel of these MMDAs to undertake simple tasks such as Email and messaging, virtual meetings, electronic filing, storing and retrieval of administrative records, webinars, etc.
It must be placed on record that President Mahama successfully piloted E-Health in 2016. By the end of 2016, the project had been piloted in four hospitals in Ghana; namely, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Korle Bu Polyclinic, Wa Regional and Zebilla District hospitals.
With regards to E-Cabinet, the automation of cabinet activities, a portal was developed to manage and coordinate meetings online. All ministers of state were trained on how to file and digitize records. As of November 2016, 20 Cabinet meetings had been managed from the E-Cabinet portal. This helped improve greatly the communication between Ministries and the Cabinet Secretariat.
On E-Justice, beyond the initial interventions made which included deployment of videoconferencing and Telepresence facilities to the Judiciary through then Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Woode, feasibility studies were conducted, Request for Proposals (RFPS) were sought, and International Competitive Bids (ICBs) were evaluated and submitted to the World Bank for ‘A No Objection'. Same process can be said for E-Parliament.
It is worth noting that E-Justice was commissioned by President Akufo-Addo a year ago. This intervention has reduced the cost of justice delivery in the country, sped up court proceedings, and given litigants easier access to information.
Last but not least, a Software Requirement Specification (SRS) document and surveys had been concluded for the implementation of E-Parliament before President Mahama left office in 2017.
In conclusion, the achievements of President John Dramani Mahama in Ghana's digital space are yet to be surpassed by this government. In this piece, we have not even discussed the Digital Terrestrial Transition (DTT) Platform, which has transformed broadcasting in Ghana. He has made Ghana more competitive with the rest of the world in this digital revolution.
His digital infrastructure and applications continue to fuel the growth of Ghana's economy and has made life more convenient and improved the quality of life of millions of Ghanaians. It has practically changed and positively impacted every sphere of Ghana.
Dr. Edward Kofi Omane Boamah is a former Minister for Communications of Ghana and Presidential spokesperson. He is also a Medical Practitioner and Health Policy Planning & Financing expert.
Dr. George Atta-Boateng is a former Director-General of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA), Computer Engineer, with expertise in Data, Computer & Communications (Telecommunications) Networks.