KAMPALA- Before going online in 2009, applying for a tax identification number (TIN) was a slow process involving a visit to a Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) domestic tax office, filling in forms manually, and attaching necessary identifications and documents.
“This would take two weeks to three months. Note that all TINS were processed in Kampala and cards were distributed to the stations. The taxpayers would check at the stations,” says URA manager public and corporate affairs, Mr Ian Rumanyika.
Today, it takes one day to get a TIN. From taxes to business registration, procurement, cargo tracking to paperless submission and processing of trade information on imports and exports, government has taken major strides in providing online services to provide easy access to its services.
This was to progressively bring an end to physical access to government offices to transact with government and increase compliance from Ugandans.
Because of this move, more than 70 Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are now offering online services.
A report by National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITAU) on Tuesday revealed that access to information technology is still a big challenge in the country.
This after a 2017 survey conducted on 2,700 people representing individuals, households, local government, ministries, departments and agencies about access to and affordability to information technology (IT) services in the country.
Some Ugandans are taking advantage of these system changes such as registering for TINs online, searching for business names, and more particularly, rural people are using them because they are cost-effective since government bodies are located far. However, the changes are hardly easing access to government services.
One challenge is low investment in IT use. Only about 2 per cent of government employees participate in IT functions. More so, about 30 per cent of government workers use IT services.
More to that, many Ugandans know little about online government services, much less how to actually use them. Only about 19 per cent of the people that were sampled in the survey were aware of the services and of these, only 5 per cent had used them, according to Mr Wairagala Wakabi, executive director Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
Mr Wairagala says the survey found that in some cases, online presence has failed to eliminate major barriers to government services such as bureaucracies.
“There is a huge challenge in terms of creating awareness about those services but also removing barriers to use of those services such as high costs and unavailability of services sometimes.
Also, simply lack of ability to use those services,” Mr Wairagala said. The cost of bandwidth is high, a challenge that has pushed government MDAs to limit access to certain services on websites.
Besides creating awareness around presence of online government services and designing strategies for skilling government workers to appreciate IT services, a researcher at CIPESA, Mr Ali Ndiwalana, says government has a duty to drive down the cost of Internet.
“The fact that government can buy bandwidth together and have NITA-U distribute it, helps bring down cost of bandwidth because when it buys in bulk, it has the capacity to negotiate and get it at a good rate. When it passes on that cost to us, the economies of scale are different,” he says.
Commenting on how cheap the Internet needs to get, Mr Fredrick Kitoogo, director planning, research and development at NITA-U, says government expects to bring down the cost on Internet to Shs72,000 ($20) per mbps in three years.
Mr James Kivumbi, an IT consultant thinks Uganda’s challenges are not technology or indeed the IT hardware but have not been given reason to use online government services. He says government should put in place cross-cutting policies, instead of guidelines, on how its MDAs must effectively run electronic services.