By: Thandiwe Kubere

The Ministry of Information, Communications, Science, Technology, and Innovation (MICSTI) in collaboration with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) held a Digital Transformation Strategy Stakeholders Consultation Workshop. Present at the event were different ministries and sectors’ representatives who shared on the challenges they encounter when delivering services digitally, some of the drawbacks stumbled upon and how digital transformation can improve service delivery for the nation’s well-being.

The workshop was planned to begin from the 22nd – 26th January 2024 to review and propose recommendations in relation to the digital transformation pillars and strategies for a  forward looking, agile and evidence based national digital strategy for Lesotho. The workshop took into consideration and is aimed at aligning with the national development agenda of the country and in coherence with regional and continental plans and strategies. The Expected audience was outlined to Principle Secretaries, Senior Officials, and ICT Directors/Managers. 

The National Digital Transformation Strategy for Lesotho, drafted in 2021 is centred around a framework that seeks to create an enabling environment for digital transformation to create impact. The intention is to create and develop a well-functioning digital economy and foster an enabling environment which unlocks private sector job creation in the identified focus areas for development. Those include agriculture, manufacturing and tourism; and enable public sector service delivery in education and health care.

 Digitization is the process of converting information from physical format to a digital format using advanced techniques and technologies. Digitization processes were explained to be complicated because many stakeholders are involved, and there are a number of factors which contribute to, or detract from the impact of digital transformation.

Facilitating the discussions,    ITU Consultant Vaiva Macuile declared the main mission of the strategy is forming an allowing environment for economic growth and job creation. She declared it is structured around five pillars which are Coordination, Digital Government, Digital Infrastructure, Digital Population and Digital Business.

Coordinating has to do with collecting views from different stakeholders and getting inputs, it also seeks to have initial discussions and executing digital transformation imperatives between government officials, private sector and donors. The main objective of Digital Government is to have an integrated set of digital citizen-centric digital solutions that enhance government service delivery for all the sectors.

Digital Infrastructure on the other hand, seeks to accelerate infrastructure developments to ensure 65% of households have access to electricity and 100% of the population have access to broadband by 2030. Moreover, Digital Population seeks to build a digitally literate population and a technically competent workforce to ensure Lesotho transitions into a digital economy. Lastly, Digital Business aims to build a digital business ecosystem where 66% of Basotho make payments digitally and that 20% conduct online purchases by 2030.

According to the 2021 draft, in order to create an enabling environment for the digitisation process in Lesotho, the framework identifies four key areas which need to be driven by government, but which also need to engage a wide base of stakeholders, including civil society, private business, non-governmental organisations and multi-national organisations, development partners and other funding agencies.

Critical to the successful development of the key focus areas are the coordination of stakeholders, through strong leadership, dedicated funding in support of the strategy implementation plan, and legislation and policy development in support of the digitisation process, (National Digital Strategy for Lesotho, 2021).

Digitization has no doubt proven to be useful where utilized. It allows information storing, retrieving, information is easily and quickly shared than physical documents. This helps improve efficiency, collaboration, and customer service. Digitization also automates and streamline business processes, reduce errors and redundancies, and enhance the quality and accuracy of information. This can save time, money, and resources, and increase the output and performance of employees and organizations.

However, there were mentioned challenged prohibiting the country from obtaining digital transformation. It was said that Lesotho does not have a dedicated structure and department to convene the key stakeholders responsible for digital transformation across ministries and between government, private sector and civil society. As a result, the country has not been able to focus its available resources and effort on prioritizing digital transformation projects with support from the private sector and donors.

Moreover, the move towards digital transformation within government has been undertaken individually by interested ministries and government agencies, with little formal coordination across government.

Although Lesotho receives financial support from development community, donors and development stakeholders often support investment in different technology systems, and there is little collaboration to combine efforts and funding and focus efforts where it will have the greatest impact.

Moreover, another challenge mentioned by the ministries was the lack of cyber security and protection from potential risks. Lesotho’s legal and regulatory environment is currently outdated with regards to cyber security, data protection and consumer protection, among other areas, and attempts to revise this have been severely delayed. This means the legal and regulatory landscape and policies need to be updated to consider emerging issues in the digital economy.

Another issue which surfaced was that different ministries only have access to data in their respective departments and do not have an idea of what is done by other Ministries.  Therefore, the siloed operations hider the development of Digital Transformation in Lesotho. Additionally, computer systems or software exchange between ministries and government systems is hindered due to lack of transparency between stakeholders and ministries. This already adds to the ministries not working together to achieve a common goal and lack of real time data.

Furthermore, there is general lack of education and knowledge on the usage of digital devices and digital networks. Adding to the already expensive tuition fee and minimal financial support when people try to enrol in technology institutions. Moreover, there is little to no stable internet connectivity in rural areas and the costs of purchasing digital devices are high. Some of the proposed initiatives moving forward were to look into reducing the country’s data costs for they have proven to be expensive, especially when considering the country’s current economic state and the evident crisis of youth unemployment.

Another challenge encountered was little trust in the government systems, which has been fuelled by the alleged corruption fostered by maintenance of cash-based systems and being transferred from one government department to the other for simple processes such as registering a new business.

As a way forward and to collectively strategize for integrating systems for digital solutions, MICSTI and the ITU will hold a GovStack Approach Technical Workshop on the 29th – 2nd Feb 2024 to raise GovStack awareness, assess the current country’s digital government situation and conduct deep-dive sessions for key building blocks.