The third part of the national ICT development plan is set to be rolled out this year.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) CEO John Gara , while holding an exclusive interview with Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times talks about how the plan will be implemented.
Government has no business being in business. This is according to government itself if we have to consider issues such as the privatization programme that is on going. Why is the same government turning around at such a time to set up a data company?
The answer to that question can be fully addressed , when one looks at the issue of ICT development in this country.
One has to revisit the time 5 years ago when a decision was taken to invest in ICT infrastructure. You must be aware that much as we had private companies investing in ICT, we still had challenges arising out of taking such services to the rural areas.
So government had no option, but to take a bigger role in provision of universal and even affordable access to the population. In order to do that government, has invested heavily in ICT especially fibre optic cables.
That is something we could have said that it is for the private sector to do. However, there are times government looks at what steps are needed in order to provide the impetus necessary to accelerate private sector investment.
I will give a good example in the form of Serena Hotel here in Kigali. Government had to invest before bringing a reputable brand on board to manage such an asset. This has had a big impact on the entire hospitality and tourism industries.
Once you have a very good hotel, this attracts others to the market. The trickle down effect is huge. Generally speaking government is not in the business of being in business.
However, government can step in, whenever there is need to do so especially in the interest of spurring the development of a particular sector.
What is the name of this company and how much capital has been invested in it?
We have the infrastructure now. The next thing needed is thinking about managing this investment. The issue is not just about getting into the data sector but managing this investment.
How are you going to do that?
Certain principal issues must be taken into account in terms of managing such infrastructure. If we are to set up any structure or company to manage this investment, we have to make sure that whatever we do ,must comply with regulatory aspects.
Secondly we must ensure that we comply with the principle of universal access. In other words, although we are the ones who have invested in infrastructure as government , we want to make sure that we do not distort the market.
For instance we would ensure that there is going to be fair play in terms of access by all private sector players. That is why so far if you look at the private companies that are leasing our ducts, they are paying cost price without any extra profit charged.
If I have understood you correctly, a decision has not been made to have in place a body corporate to manage this infrastructure you are talking about?
A decision has been made. But it is not operational. You must understand that the concept is in place. Infrastructure is in place.
We must manage that infrastructure in such a way that there is competition while such infrastructure is well maintained and made affordable.
The investment made should be able to benefit the average citizen.
Can you share with readers how much government has so far spent on developing this entire infrastructure?
There are several components that have been developed, from the Kigali wibro to national data centre to the fibre optic cable.
These are fairly large investments running into millions of dollars. The most important thing is that when you invest in such an infrastructure you are not looking at financial returns the way you would do in a normal private company.
You have to look at economic returns. You have to look at how you want to effect a turn around of the entire economy as a whole. There must be an economic return to this country.
That means that the high investment is justifiable as we are concerned more with taking services to public centres such as schools, hospitals or even local government units.
But that is still a return to investment made
I just want readers to understand that this is indeed a higher or rather unique form of return not the normal one.
What is more important is that what ever we set up we make sure that there is an economic return to this country.
I must point out that we have obligations to our readers. Correct information must be relayed. As public funds have been used we need to say how much was invested and for what purpose.
You are right. I was not saying it as if we are hiding the figures. However , all I am saying is that when you hear of such high figures involved, it is also right to think of such investment made the way one would think about building roads or other public utilities in this country.
What are we expected to reap in say 5 year’s time? That is very important.
When such a decision that you are talking about was made, it thus means that by implication such a decision was arrived at with certain projections in mind. There must have been a need as to why government did what it did. Is it possible for you to tell readers that these are the short term or medium term plans and targets going forward?
Actually we are in the process of developing what is called the NICI-III. Rwanda has had two five year plans for its ICT development.
Previously focus was in policy and rollout of infrastructure. Which is what we have finished. The next course of action for 5 years is services.
In this journey a lot is going to depend on how we encourage the private sector to come on board. I am talking about private sector development in ICT.
Secondly, we want to focus more on e-Government meaning other services provided by government such as health, education and others. Such plans are coming for approval in the next few weeks. But generally speaking we are talking about services being spearheaded by private sector with in ICT all over the country not just within Kigali City.
I must add that the bulk of investment has been within voice. We want to see more within data. We want to connect what we have done with actualizing our dream of having in place a true ICT hub.
Let us talk about the telecoms sector. Don’t you think that there is a contradiction of sorts by making such moves? The implication is that government is an operator and at the same time a regulator in the data business within telecoms. Telcoms operators in this country are known to have invested heavily in the last couple of years to shore up their data service provisions. When government is coming up to say that it is now involved in data business don’t you think that such a scenario presents some contradictions of sorts?
Do not forget what I mentioned right at the beginning. I said that whatever is being invested or going to be done in the coming days, there are certain principles that will have to be followed strictly.
One is the regulatory part that will be respected. The second will be open access. Meaning that government does not take advantage of its ownership of infrastructure to limit the access to private companies within the sector.
We will look at other models that have worked well in order to deliver on such expectations. A case in point being looking closely at how British Telecoms(BT) in the United Kingdom separated infrastructure from access to other operators in order to deliver on such promises for British citizens.
There are models around the world to deliver on this. What is important for us is we will do everything possible to make sure that investment in infrastructure ends up being an advantage for all citizens of this country.
That is what I wanted to be made very clear for our readers.
As long as we make such an important point very clear, everything should be well understood.
While going about such an undertaking in the coming days, it is important to note that the end objective is actually not to stifle but to boost the workings of the private sector within telecoms.
Tell us about the management style of this company.
The issue of management has not been finalized.
What do you envisage?
We are looking at a number of models. We are working this issue out. We hope to finalize soon.
We have considered Private Public Partnership (PPP) model. We are considering the full privatization of this infrastructure that will involve valuation of such assets and things like that.
We have also considered a scenario whereby this investment is run as a full government company.
Has a decision been made on which model is to be used?
The moment a decision will be made the media will be informed.
What is your concluding remark?
The most important thing is for people to understand is that Rwanda Development Board(RDB) and by extension this government would not want to do anything that can endanger the gains made within the ICT sector.
We have consistently said that we expect Rwanda to be a knowledge based economy. In order to do that, we have invested in ICT.
When we talk about private sector investment in ICT, it goes beyond the telecommunications sector. There is a tendency for people to narrow it down to mobile telephony or things like that.
We are looking at the bigger picture here in RDB in order to deliver on turning Rwanda into a true hub. The aim is to promote more competition through provision of more services.
Most importantly, we are serious in ensuring that if no body is going to provide such services to all corners of this country, then government will step in to do that.