The dark side of Tanzania’s unlikely GovTech success

Government Electronic Payment Gateway (GePG) is a centralized system, connected to all available electronic revenue collection channels for the process of facilitating electronic money transactions from the public to the Government and vice versa.

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  • In conclusion, while it is important to acknowledge Tanzania’s GovTech success, and I hope to get opportunities to explore this subject even further, but it is also essential to address the challenges and limitations that exist

Tanzania’s unlikely success in the GovTech field should make us all take notice. Outstanding success requires sustained effort. We ought to take stock of our accomplishments and celebrate them.

There are many reasons for doing that. Change is a gradual process, and acknowledging even modest successes can keep people motivated. Positivity can inspire people to push for further improvements. But, above all, this provides an opportunity for reflection, helping us pinpoint the actions that influence success and failure. That knowledge can then be applied to future programs.

At the moment, one of the biggest takeaways is that when people choose progress, progress becomes inevitable. Think of how the West and East coasts of America were connected. Think of how Fidel Castro eliminated illiteracy in Cuba in nine months. Think of how China pulled 700 million people out of poverty. In our case, if it is possible in GovTech, it is also possible in agriculture, industry, power, and water supply, and so on. That said, we also need to view Tanzania’s GovTech progress a bit soberly. Not everything that shines is all gold.

By 2017, Max Malipo offered the most comprehensive payment service in Tanzania. The government contracted Max Malipo to collect payments for Luku, water bills, Dart, road licenses, municipal taxes, property tax, hotel levies, and city service levies. Max Malipo was flying high, but because of its excessive reliance on government contracts for expansion, the company was perched on a dry tree branch. When the company tried to recruit overseas investors, the potential partners turned them down, highlighting that very risk.

There were question marks about how Max Malipo won all those contracts and who stood to gain from them. Some sources hint at foul play. There were also questions about Max Malipo’s effectiveness.

The Magufuli government’s solution was cold-blooded. They sent engineers to Max Malipo to learn about the system, then – for lack of a better word – seized the servers to give way to GePG. Barring Max Malipo’s foreign operations, the firm could have been buried for good. Now, several people I have talked to admire GePG technical ingenuity on a number of issues, but it can be said that GePG was founded on Max Malipo’s ashes. Such is the cost of Tanzania’s GovTech progress.

Such stories abound. Often, these are stories of regulators taking the role of the industry by usurping opportunities available to private companies. The outcome is huge redundancy and information silos, which hinder industry progress. By some counts, over 700 systems have been deployed, where 70 percent are redundant. This is where you have, for example, different water authorities deploying different systems to do the same thing.

Moreover, what happens after the current phase is accomplished? In other words, how are we going to use the knowledge and experience we would have gained through these deployments? Are government engineers going to start deploying solutions for other governments out there and create further employments in Tanzania?

The current approach, while yielding success, has its dark side that cannot be ignored. One pressing issue is the high cost associated with development. Programmers spend months in camps developing solutions. Today, Morogoro serves as the new hub for government project software development. The financial burden is exacerbated by the absence of industry rivalry and the prolonged development times required to obtain per diems.

Another drawback is the perception that government systems are treated as investments rather than tools for providing public services. The National Data Centre, charges unwarranted fees, prompting institutions to opt for standalone servers instead. Similarly, Nida charges substantial amounts for user authentication services. These barriers hinder the widespread adoption of these systems and limit their effectiveness in serving the public.

I don’t think if we have thought our strategy through. There seems to be a lack of an overarching vision driving these developments. In some cases, it feels like the right things are being done with wrong motives. There is, therefore, the need to develop a clear long-term goal to lead to sustainable results. Without a clear vision, we might end up with low-quality, barely scalable, redundant, and highly porous systems from the security point of view. That is how you end up with systems with outdated information, limited support, and little utilisation.

In my opinion, the GovTech development craze should have as one of its primary objectives to spur the local software development industry. There is so much to be gained from such a development. Therefore, we need to involve the best brains in the industry and give space for the private sector. Breaking down silos and fostering cooperation can lead to more innovative solutions and sustained growth of the software development industry.

In conclusion, while it is important to acknowledge Tanzania’s GovTech success, and I hope to get opportunities to explore this subject even further, but it is also essential to address the challenges and limitations that exist. Attention must be given to the high price, poor quality, unclear vision, problems with governance, and requirement for effective management. Through the GovTech success, Tanzania may continue its journey toward becoming a technical powerhouse by ensuring that the advantages of the current developments reach the people and support sustainable overall development.

Who knows – probably the future works after all.