When John Mugiraneza went to apply for a passport for the first time earlier this year, the Kigali-based businessman made several trips to various government institutions.
First, it was to the immigration offices to establish the requirements to facilitate him obtain the travel document, then to the cell offices for a document certifying he was a resident, which itself took him two trips.
On his way to submit the forms at the immigration offices, he also dropped by Rwanda Revenue Authority offices to pay the Rwf50,000 fee required to get the passport and, of course, he had to go back to collect it when it was ready.
Never mind that the Immigration and Emigration Directorate is one of the most efficient public institutions in the country.
Other public services are much more difficult to access.
Most of the applicants for a criminal clearance certificate make at least two trips to the National Public Prosecution Authority offices and another to Rwanda Revenue Authority offices before going to pick the document.
All these demand queuing, sometimes for hours.
But soon all these trips to government institutions by citizens and business operators for the services will be reduced to one, upon completion of an initiative, Rwanda Online Platform, which aims at making all government services available online for improved service delivery.
The platform will be made possible courtesy of a partnership between the government and a private firm, Rwanda Online Platform Limited.
An agreement, signed in April by the parties, granted a concession to the firm to create and manage the platform for 25 years, after which it will be transferred back to government.
The first phase of the initiative that seeks to eliminate the pain of queuing at public offices kicked off last month with 10 select institutions expected to be automated by May next year.
Explaining the functioning of the platform currently under construction, Irene Ndikumwenayo, the acting chief executive of Rwanda Online Platform, said although various institutions offer services online, currently there is no single platform that offered all public services online.
“For an IT-led country, there was no standard mechanism to ensure that everyone can receive standard and quality services through an online platform. The government wanted a single portal where citizens and business operators can access all government services,” Ndikumwenayo said.
As things stand, there are various ministries and agencies responsible for their own services and hire their own IT experts to build online platforms, which doesn't allow for standardisation.
The platform, under construction with the help of partners from Singapore, in conjunction with local IT companies, is to avail a total of 100 government services online in the project’s life of 37 months.
“In our feasibility study, we found that people were making up to seven trips for some government services,” Ndikumwenayo said.
The web site will contain a menu of services that government provides. On selecting the desired service, one would be able to load the requirements (soft copies) onto the platform, pay through the various cashless options provided (visa or mobile money services) and submit them.
If all the requirements are met, one would receive a notification either via text message or e-mail that the application has been successful.
The platform would then forward the submitted details to the respective institutions for processing after which a notification would be sent that the documents are ready for collection.
Allaying fears that the platform could be used by unscrupulous parties to access personal information, Ndikumwenayo said public institutions will retain full administrative control of the services offered as well as the information issued to them.
“The platform will have front-end only, meaning it processes up to submission. For example, if one is applying for a criminal clearance certificate, they provide all the information needed online, pay online but on submission, the information goes to the relevant institution,” said Didier Nkurikiyimfura, the director-general of ICT at the Ministry of Youth and ICT.
“The Rwanda Online Platform won’t process any application made; we will bundle it and send it to the relevant agency,” he said, adding that the partnership aims at improving efficiency, convenience and timeliness of services offered to citizens and businesses.
“We hope to reduce time taken awaiting the procedures or having to physically walk into the offices. There will be a few exceptions, however, where much as people can apply online, they will be expected to walk in physically to collect documents.”
Nkurikiyimfura said they also expect that the new platform will contribute toward creating a more conducive business environment as services offered to businesses will improve too.
Ange Sebutege, the communications officer at the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration, one of the institutions to be catered for in the first phase of the initiative, said although the changes may not necessarily have any impact on the processing time, the services offered will be easily available without necessarily having to physically walk into the offices.
“Citizens at times have to apply for birth certificates manually to apply for a passport, such processes will be eased as they will be closer to them,” Sebutege said.
A UN survey published in June by Department of Economic and Social Affairs says that factors influencing e-government development in countries include the level of a country’s economic, social and political development as well as investments in telecommunication and human capital.
To improve e-government, the survey, released biannually, suggests that countries should establish a clear national vision, supported by committed leadership, appropriate policies and collaborative governance frameworks.