Three experts and practitioners in the information and communications technology (ICT) space have described the government’s agenda to accelerate development through the digitalisation of public sector services as an important springboard for job creation.
However, while admitting that a well-functioning digitalised economy would be a vehicle for the efficient running of the country, the three, in separate interviews, agreed that the achievements formed only the foundation, and that it was now time to build.
The three are the co-Founder of Rancard Solutions, Mr Ehi Binitie; the Founder of SoftTribe, Mr Herman Chinery-Hesse, and the Founder of AlexPay, a fintech company, Mr Moses Kanduri.
While Mr Binitie, who is also the Founder of Clear Space Labs, wanted the government to move beyond the fundamentals and empower technology talents to leverage the foundation, Mr Chinery-Hesse urged the government to deploy Artificial Intelligence (AI) to formulate tailored policies to bring about the needed development.
Similarly, Mr Kanduri said the government should decentralise the application of digitalisation to all sectors and leave it to the private sector to lead.
“The adoption of new forms of innovation to improve education, health, transportation, etc, which has made digitalisation a sought-after means for development, is possible because Ghana’s digital infrastructure is presently not where it used to be 10 years ago,” he said.
Their comments come two days ahead of the presentation of the 2022 Budget and Economic Policy to Parliament, in which the Finance Minister, Mr Ken Ofori-Atta, is expected to outline plans to deepen the digitalisation agenda, skills training and the promotion of entrepreneurship as part of the Ghana CARES (Obaatan pa) programme.
The GH¢100-million programme is being implemented to get the economy revitalised through certain niche interventions, including the three mentioned above.
It also targets the youth as much as possible.
The recommendation by the experts also ties in with the megatrends compiled by the audit and advisory firm, KPMG, on the big issues that will affect the global economy in the next 20 to 30 years.
Megatrends are a major movement, pattern or trend emerging in the macro environment; an emerging force likely to have a significant impact on the kinds of products consumers would wish to buy in the foreseeable future.
According to KPMG, how efficient governments are able to respond to the nine megatrends would determine, to a large extent, their survival level and how well they could meet the needs of their citizens, including creating enough opportunities.
The nine global megatrends that KPMG used for its 2022 pre-budget survey are demographics, rights of individuals, enabling technology, economic inter-connectedness, public debt, economic power shift, climate change, resource stress and urbanisation.
Mr Chinery-Hesse said AI would soon determine how businesses and all human activities were conducted, for which reason Ghana must be well prepared to take full advantage of the benefits associated with such technology.
Consequently, he said, the government must make stringent efforts to create its own data platforms that would employ AI.
“The future is platforms; the future is AI, so we have to be very careful not to get re-colonised because if the data we talk about do not live in platforms that belong to Ghana or Ghanaians, then how do they benefit us? What are we selling?” he quizzed.
Let’s move beyond foundation
For Mr Binitie, digitalisation would translate into economic growth only in a knowledge economy that prioritised high technology skills.
“Our digitalisation agenda has only laid the foundation.
The evolution of that is to begin to take it to the next step.
They are all foundational and important for a digital economy, but the greatest resource in a digital economy is the knowledge resource and Ghana has no shortage of smart and talented people,” he said.
The Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, has been championing a digitalised economy since 2017.
The National Identification Authority (NIA), which is in charge of issuing the Ghana Card, is now moving to another stage where it is integrating the information with other systems.
Databases that have linked up with the NIA system include those of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), the Registrar-General’s Department, the Electoral Commission and the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).
The Controller and Accountant-General’s Department has asked workers paid from the Consolidated Fund to register for the Ghana Card.
Aside from the Ghana Card, the acquisition of passports and drivers licences has been semi-automated and there is a re-registration of SIM cards with the use of the Ghana Card.
The banking sector has experienced one of the most consummate forms of digitalisation, with the Ghana Interbank Payment and Settlement System (GhIPPS) being the intermediary and facilitator for enabling interoperability among banking systems.
At a lecture on Digitalisation at the Ashesi University a couple of weeks ago, Vice-President Bawumia said the strategy had, since 2017, been not just to repair the “system” but build a new “system” through digital transformation.
“A system with unique identification numbers for the population, a system with addresses for all properties and locations, a system that is transparent and promotes accountability, discipline and trustworthiness and a system that is inclusive and not based on who you know,” Dr Bawumia had said.
He said the envisioned dream was also to create a system that provided efficient public service delivery and tackled corruption, a system that improved efficiency in the health sector and a system that provided financial inclusion and a cash-lite economy.
Mr Binitie told the Daily Graphic in an interview that the next challenge was growing beyond the shores of the country.
He said he wanted Ghana to cash in on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which he said presented new opportunities for trade across the region.
“It is the time to grow beyond our walls if we want to be the power house of innovation and entrepreneurship.
Our perspective must be beyond Ghana, so every policy on innovation needs to also look at trade, so that what is created could be marketed beyond Ghana, and that must be policy driven,” he explained.
He noted that the richest countries in the world were not rich because they had natural resources but because they produced advanced technology that could easily be exported for significant monetary returns.
For his part, Mr Kanduri said in countries where digitalisation had gained ground, it was not the government leading the drive, but that it rather provided the enabling environment and the policy framework that favoured young private individuals to lead the drive.
“If we don’t redirect the focus of the digitalisation drive and encourage young innovators to lead the drive, we will miss the real innovations that could bring about economic growth,” he said.
He called on the government to factor into its digitalisation drive a sense of decentralisation, so that the building of the digital infrastructure would be segmented into regions or districts, according to their pressing needs.
He said the adaptability of the interoperability infrastructure, for instance, was not the same across the country, as the need for it might be concentrated in more commercially viable areas than a rural farming community.
“The adaptability of the digital drive will not be the same across the country.
Every district or region has its own demands and what digital solutions it requires and will have value for, so we have to look at this development from a decentralised point of view,” Mr Kanduri said.