“Digital literacy and IT penetration in local government are key to sustainable urbanization and service delivery in the changing world”, the Secretary General of RALGA said.
The COVID19 pandemic called for stringent measures across the World, and most countries declared lockdowns. This happened in Rwanda in April 2020 and continued in different parts of the Country, particularly the City of Kigali.
Local Governments in Rwanda were the most affected public service provider, along with health and security organs. The trio remained on the forefront when others went lockdown, and the role of local government was insurmountable to say the least.
In addition to community mobilization, ensuring compliance in the enforcement of COVID19 preventive measures, distributing foodstuff to the needy and other affected households, local government leaders continued with service provision “as usual”, but this time differently.
Efficiency in managing the limited financial resources available
COVID19 seriously affected all sources of income for local governments, mainly decentralized taxes, government transfers as well as contributions from development partners. The situation jeopardized the implementation of the projected programs. However, the availability of IT infrastructure in local government coupled with the gradual mindset change of local leaders and staff to embrace IT in service delivery, provided room for COVID19 impact mitigation.
As an illustration, RALGA had budgeted 19 million for the implementation of training sessions on “effective social protection for urban poor” targeting 97 District and Sector staff from the 6 Secondary Cities Districts. Of the 19 million, 12 million were meant for accommodation, meals and transport facilitation. However, the increase in COVID19 infection cases prompted a lockdown for the City of Kigali and movement restrictions between the City of Kigali and districts as well as between the districts.
Therefore, it was no longer possible to organize physical training sessions for Secondary Cities Districts under IDEAL (Inclusive Decisions at Local Level Program) between January and March 2021. As a mitigation strategy, RALGA and the beneficiary districts resolved to organize online training sessions. This saved the total costs from accommodation, transport and conference package.
Moreover, the two days technical forum for Local Government Public Financial Management (PFM) in December 2020 took place virtually and successfully, saving over twenty million Rwandan Francs. The technical forum brought together the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the Ministry of Local Government, Rwanda Revenue Authority, RALGA, the City of Kigali and all the Districts.
Improved service delivery
According to Mr. Fred Hategekimana, the Executive Secretary and Chief Budget Manager for Nyagatare District, the IT played a key role not only in mitigating the impact of COVID19 in the district, but also in improving service delivery in general.
On the financial aspect, Mr. Fred said that the online meetings and capacity building activities allowed a better utilization of the limited resources of the district, as they allowed sparing mission related costs such as mileages and mission allowances.
The citizens continued enjoying online service delivery mainly through IREMBO platform. The agents are located in every sector (administrative entity), and most of them are accessible using USSD (mobile phones), whereby local government officials would online approve the request.
In addition to that, Local Government Councils were held virtually, though some councilors experienced challenges in digital literacy or limited IT penetration and network. This calls for more capacity building for local government for better performance.
No way back
According to Mr. Ladislas Ngendahimana, the Secretary General for Rwanda Association of Local Government Authorities (RALGA), the challenges posed by COVID19 pandemic were also an opportunity to leverage the great potential of the IT infrastructure that the Government of Rwanda heavily invested in in improving local government performance. He advises the local leaders and staff to use the available IT tools as much as possible for timely and quality service delivery, even after the COVID19 pandemic.