Martin Mirero from Kenya is a man on a mission. As director of ICT for the government's flagship e-services initiative, launched in November 2013, Mirero wants to build on the programme's momentum and increase the number of current services provided from 100 to a potential 5000.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Public Sector ICT Forum hosted this week in Houghton Johannesburg, Mirero said when it comes to government services, citizens demand a more expedient, more cost effective service with quicker turn-around time.
Services are provided via Huduma's network of 52 walk-in centres across 47 counties. The concept is based on a 'one-stop-shop' banking hall model involving the services of up to 40 government agencies.
Representatives of these government agencies work alongside Huduma customer service agents at the centres to process high-demand services linked to life events – from insurance, passport applications, business permits right through to marriage certificates and everything in-between.
People arrive at the centre and are issued with a time-stamped ticket via a queue management system (which Mirero said is tantamount to 'a contract with the government' that they will be served) – and then wait for their number to be announced before being directed to a workstation to be served by an and liaise with the relevant member of staff.
"...typically five minutes on average and then there's feedback – that is a very key component. Not many service providers allow real-time feedback. The glue that ties that together is the VMWare platform... that is our foundation. Everything runs off this, internally we call it a private cloud ... so this CRM allows us to track the citizen at every service channel, if they call the contact centre, if they started something on mobile, or if they walked in, we know about them. We can track the history of interaction with government," Mirero continued.
Digital ID a contentious issue
Based on its market research, Huduma has identified several priority services and determined that the national ID was one of the most popular.
"We have about fifteen extremely popular services ... the national ID was easily the most frustrating government service and (it) took up to six months to get your ID. We collapsed that to ten days. And it is interesting that we convinced the national ID guys in home affairs to get through the many steps in the process," said Mirero.
But national identification has another dimension to it in Kenya. Mirero acknowledged that digital identification and relevant technology rollout remains a contentious issue in the East African country.
In July 2019, ITWeb Africa reported that Kenya drafted the Huduma Bill 2019 that would force citizens to register via the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) or known locally as 'Huduma Namba'.
NIIMS was established to ensure the roll out of government services to those who registered, but in March 2019 local courts ruled that registration should be voluntary and no one should be denied services.
The Huduma Bill 2019 states that Huduma Namba will be used to access government services (including passport applications, driver licenses, mobile number registration or registration to vote, among others) and transaction without the Huduma Namba will result in imprisonment for one year and/or a fine of Kshs1-million.
Civil rights groups – including the Paradigm Initiative, Nubian Rights Forum, Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – have expressed concern over the Bill.
There are privacy concerns related to a single number linked to residents' personal information, including biometric and demographic data in digital form.
In August 2019 Grace Bomu, an associate at the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet and member of the Contract for the Web working group on privacy and data rights, wrote: "Advocacy for digital ID systems that respect rights have typically targeted governments. But as observed from the digital ID case in Kenya (popularly known as HudumaNamba), there is also need to engage the companies that develop these technologies, as they effectively shape how millions of people access government services."
"Digital ID technology should be developed in consultation with citizens and as part of other solutions that improve the quality of life. It should not be built elsewhere and imported to Africa as a quick-fix to social or security problems."
Of the ongoing issue and surrounding controversy, Mirero said: "We do not own that service so we have limited influence in how it is designed. But we have concerns over data security and privacy, and also the 'big brother' element to it. Our approach, as Huduma (and what has also helped us keep focused) is that we've placed the citizen at the centre, so we evaluate everything from their perspective. If there is a project we're thinking of and it looks like a cool project, we ask 'can we trace the path to value for the citizen?' and if we can't, then we drop it."
Huduma claims to have served 23 million customers since inception and said an estimated KES68-biillion has been saved by Kenyans through the programme.
Looking ahead, Huduma plans to intensify partnerships with the private sector to scale its operation and also advance its plan to roll out mobile Huduma Centres or mobile trucks equipped with up to six workstations to deliver services to rural communities.
Mirero and his team also want to develop the Huduma Kiosk opportunity whereby mini-centres with fewer than ten workstations can managed and run by entrepreneurs who will earn commission.