Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Local govts need more money for computers

Rwenzori Information centres Network (Ric-Net) is a consortium of five NGOs that form RWECO [Rwenzori consortium for civic competence].
The NGOs have received funding and tasked Ric-Net to set up seven internet centres [e-societies] in the seven districts of Kasese, Kabarole, Bundibugyo, Kyejonjo, Kamwenge, Ntoroko and Kyegegwa of Rwenzori sub-region.
These e-societies host the districts’ websites, train different categories of people in ICT. Wilber Muhwezi spoke to Ric-Net’s executive director, JOHN M. SILCO, after the official opening of the Bundibugyo e-society.

When did you get this idea of free internet access in the Rwenzori sub-region?
I and my colleagues conceived this sometime back but started implementation in 2005 with the first eight rural information centres at counties and 35 centres at sub-counties. In 2009, we set up the Kasese e-society while in 2010 we constructed the Kabarole one.
In 2012, we have set up two more – Kamwenge and Bundibugyo. Next February, we shall set up the remaining three and close the project in 2014.

Who funds this project?
We are funded by a Dutch NGO, HIVOS and the European Union. The project will cost us 250,000 Euros (Shs 750m).

Whom do you target to benefit from these e-societies?
We target a number of categories of people in the sub-region who include core district staffs, elected leaders, civil society members and youths in and out of schools. These people come and access internet, train in ICT, district electronic library, district websites that we have constructed and even host websites, among others.

When do you expect to complete the remaining e-societies?
The remaining three e-societies will be complete by February next year and the five-year project will close in 2014.

To what extent is lack of internet and ICT a problem here?
Lack of ICT is a very big problem in Rwenzori region. For example, at districts where our e-societies have been located, our research shows that 50% of the staff is computer illiterate.
Our research adds that the 50% ICT literate district staff access a computer once or twice a week. And for the public, there is a long way to go but with such initiatives we shall make some reasonable headway.

What percentage of people in Rwenzori sub-region accesses internet daily?
It is just 5%. These are university students, few employed people and those from the small rich class.

What percentage of the people of Rwenzori sub-region [that access internet] will you attain when all the seven e-societies are operational?
We are targeting to achieve 95% internet access to staff of the seven district local governments. These should be able to access internet daily. We are aiming at making about 600,000 people access our online web platforms through 6030 short code using their mobile phones.  

What should the government do to improve internet access to the public?
Government should emphasize funding to local governments on ICT issues to enable them build more capacity to the district staff and even extend deeper to lower local governments.
The Uganda Communications Commission should extend a hand in setting up rural communication centres to all the health centres at all levels and even sub-counties. The government should also scrap all the taxes levied to ICT-related items in order to make them affordable to the public. It should also copy Rwanda’s policy of providing laptops to students. [A lap top per-child]

How will the centres function after your project ends?
The districts will generate some income from the photocopies, scanners and printers we provide to these e-societies to keep the centre running. Also the money the district would have spent on training staff on ICT would be saved to keep the centres running. Still, we have advised the district to include ICT in their work plans and budgets.

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