For the private sector to reap more from their business, they must adopt to the use of science and technology, as this will enhance their competitiveness.
According to Francis Gatare, the Chief Economist in the president’s office, despite government efforts to promote the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the country, the response from the private sector is slow.
Gatare said that while the use of ICT can greatly enhance competition by facilitating them to add value to their products and services, and in turn increasing the profitability of their businesses, the private sector is persistently using “traditional ways” of doing business.
“How can we have our (Rwanda) private sector shift from traditional way of doing business to using science and technology to increase their returns on investment?” Gatare poised a question to a cross section of science and technology experts during a consultative meeting on the implementation of the National Policy for Science and Technology Innovation (STI) recently.
The one day meeting reviewed the progress and the progress in the development of the Science and Technology in Rwanda.
Gatare argued that widespread use of STIs in the country will not only increase productivity of the private sector but also help the country to achieve its vision of being an “Economic Hub” by the year 2020.
However for the country to achieve its Vision 2020 that includes becoming a middle come country, an annual per capita income of $ 900 from current $315, the economy will need to grow to a 7 fold.
“This underscores the role of science and technology innovations if we are to achieve to our vision,” Gatare said.
Last year the economy registered a tremendous double digit growth at 11. 2 percent from 6.5 percent in the previous year .Though this year it has been lowered to 5.percent by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to the impact the global recession.
“Rwanda must address its local challenges to achieve its vision,” said OTF Group’s James Foster who was also present at the meeting.
It is the role of government Foster said, to put incentives to encourage the private sector to use ICT.
“Government has to help the private sector to identify opportunities in the sector,” he said.
He also said that the nation needs to intensify efforts geared towards the use of ICT, as this would make the country more competitive. He referred to the increased productivity in the coffee sector after OTF establishing washing stations.
Of the 36 established working stations since 2007, 17 are operating at a loss, 14 are profitable while 5 are not operational.
“While some washing stations are operating at a loss because of high operating costs and poor management, others are highly profitable,” he said.
Foster pointed out that building a competitive Rwandan economy requires identifying and supporting new clusters.
He also underscored that over the years, the single gorilla product that was previously Rwanda’s only tourism product has evolved into a broad based cluster.
“ Attractive and sophisticated clusters are hard to reach but not impossible,” Foster said, mentioning existing possible opportunities if Rwanda ventures into pharmaceuticals, integrated circuit board assembly , iron and steel manufactures and metal tools.
He also said there are opportunities in developing attractive and low hanging fruits including processed fruits, furniture, silk apparel, dried fruits and carbon blacks.
However, members of the private sector challenged government saying they have been “left in darkness” as far as involvement of the sector in ICT development is involved.
“Private Sector is in total darkness. There is limited information sharing between private sector and government institutions and development partners. There should be a mechanism to disseminate information across all sectors,” said Raj Rajendran, the CEO of UTEXRWA, a garment factory currently producing silk.
UTEXRWA he said, as already ventured into the use of technology innovation by converting old local refrigerators into incubators for silk worms after realising the firm could not afford a sum of $ 10,000 to buy the required refrigerator.
The Minister of Science and Technology is yet to present a draft ICT bill in parliament to establish a law that will govern implementation of science and technology policies.
It will also see a new commission set up that will be charged with co-ordination and implementation of the National Policy for Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) activities.