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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Columnist: Daily Guide Network

If I were the administrator of GIFEC

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There is no doubt that the advent of Information Communication Technology (ICT) has accelerated the transformation and development of the world. Ghana, realising the potential of ICT as a tool and enabler for development, started the process of developing an ICT policy in 1998. However, the policy, ICT for Accelerated Development (ICT4AD) was finally adopted in 2003. This policy gave birth to some important agencies which have served as active drivers of the ICT agenda.

As a result of this, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC) was established a few years later with the mandate of providing universal access to electronic communications to promote social and economic development.”

It was originally set up as Ghana Investment Fund for Telecommunications (GIFTEL).

Last two weeks, GIFEC celebrate its 10th anniversary under the theme: “Ten Years of making Electronic Communications Accessible to the Nation.”

A number of activities were put together to commemorate the landmark occasion.

One of the activities which GIFEC undertook during the celebration and which caught my attention was an eye-screening exercise for commercial drivers. I was personally interested in this eye test because in my last two articles which focused on trotro drivers, I wrote about the ‘mystery’ around the commercial drivers’ apparent immunity to eye diseases. It is strange that while a lot of private drivers wore glasses, it was very rare to see commercial drivers in glasses. GIFEC’s exercise proved my assumptions right – I am reliably informed that the eye test for commercial drivers revealed that many of them had eye problems – indeed it was worse than they thought.

This issue has to be taken very seriously. Isn’t it strange that commercial drivers (both trotro and tax) in Ghana hardly wear glasses? Could some of the accidents on our roads be attributed to poor vision of the drivers? Having been associated with the telecom sector for several years, I know that legally telcos are mandated to contribute one percent of their annual revenue to GIFEC’s fund for its operations.

The contributions of the telcos remain a key source of funding for GIFEC. I believe there are other sources which I am not aware of.

As GIFEC celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is important to recount some of their achievements.

GIFEC’s activities are quite many but I will highlight only a few which they undertake to promote universal access to communications programme. Some of the initiatives include Cyber Laboratory Programmes, Universal Access to Telephony; ICT for Livelihood; ICT Education, Awareness & Content and Broadcasting.

According to GIFEC, it has instituted Cyber Laboratory Programmes to support full-service broadband connectivity, services and facilities to designated unserved and underserved communities. These include Institutional Support initiatives through which GIFEC provides computers and accessories with full functionality as well as internet connectivity (broadband) services.

Some of the beneficiaries are: Passport Office, Midwifery and Nursing Council, NADMO, NCCE, National House of Chiefs and EOCO. I hope that these interventions by GIFEC have improved the operations of the recipient institutions. Providing support to an institution is good and using it appropriately would make things better. I hope the institutions are improving through these interventions.

The Community Information Center is another means by which GIFEC provides computers, accessories and financial support to communities. The CIC concept is a hybrid profit-making tele centre and non-profit community resource centre established to provide business services and community development information to remote communities.

Out of 173 CICs built so far, 136 have been equipped through the support of GIFEC. Again, we need to see the impact these interventions are making. ICTs are to empower people and make them more efficient.

Among the activities initiated by GIFEC, I am very excited about the Schools’ Connectivity Programme because of the opportunity it provides to the youth. This programme involves the provision of high speed computers, scanners, printers, projectors and servers to educational institutions. It is therefore refreshing to note that GIFEC has done so much in this sector.

Available statistics show that 82 Nursing Training Schools; 24 Community Development Institutions; 3 OIC Institutions; 9 Farming Institutions; 26 Technical Institutions; 37 National Vocational Training Institutes; 38 Colleges of Education; 13 Schools for the Deaf and 20 Integrated Community Centre for Employable Skills (ICCES) have received support from GIFEC. GIFEC says it has distributed 20,000 laptops to 200 Junior Secondary schools. These interventions are remarkable.

Again, we have to think beyond the provision of computers to the provision of employable skills, development of creative abilities and the application of the knowledge they are receiving. We need the youth to take giant steps in the development of businesses in the ICT sector.

I also got to learn through my research that key security institutions such as the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Army, Ghana Fire Service, Ghana Immigrations Service and Ghana Prisons Service have all benefited from GIFEC. Again, I was touched to see prison inmates using computers to learn. I know quite a number of organisations, including the MTN Ghana Foundation, have provided computers to the Ghana Prisons Service.

One of the core mandates of GIFEC is to provide internet point of presence and basic telephony services to bridge the digital gap between the served, underserved and unserved communities in Ghana. According to GIFEC, it has built 51 telephony sites and 300 points of presence.

It also intends to distribute about 2,000 mobile phones this year in a bid to provide data enabled handsets to communities to help them access voice and data services. GIFEC has also established the National Emergency Call which is commendable.

I think the centre has not been promoted adequately and GIFEC must take steps to educate people about the benefits of the center.

In as much as we celebrate GIFEC, we still need to find out what the real impact of all these interventions is.

For example, how has the provision of computers helped schools, students and institutions like the Passport office?

Secondly, we also need to know if GIFEC has made the best use of the resources they have been given. I hope there is regular monitoring and evaluation of the projects.

I have heard people criticise GIFEC for not doing enough with regards to the Rural Telephony Project. Recently, I heard the host of a popular radio morning show ‘bashing’ telcos for not providing access to some communities in remote areas.

What they failed to do was to ask how GIFEC can assist in this regard. Some of the telcos have a strong presence in the rural areas. However, they can reach more places at a faster pace if GIFEC also provides the needed resources to help them connect the underserved communities.

I do not intend to take anything away from the numerous successes GIFEC has recorded; there is evidence that it is supporting a lot of institutions.

If I were the Administrator of the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications, I will be encouraged by what has been achieved but the excitement will drive me to find more innovative and efficient ways of providing universal access to basic telephony to the unserved and underserved communities in the country.

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