KEPSA ICT Sector Board led by Chair, Mr. Mike Macharia, held an online meeting on 23rd April 2020. The main aim of the meeting was to deliberate on the ICT industry expectations and deliverables in relations to supporting businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his remarks, Mr. Macharia noted that a lot has happened since the last meeting with the conversation around COVID-19, adding that manufacturers have done a lot during this time. In the ICT industry, he noted that education has been highly disrupted and that the conversation going forward should be about what ICT can do.
Mr. Macharia further informed members that the Cabinet Secretary of ICT formed an ICT advisory committee for purposes of coordinating ICT specific responses to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Further to this, there was also a task force formed specifically for the Digital Economy blueprint with the agenda of coming up with a master strategy document was to be published in January 2020 but has not yet taken place.
The Sector Board Vice Chair, Mr. Ben Roberts informed members that there has been a lot of activity from KEPSA around the COVID-19 crisis with real actions being dominated by manufacturing, agriculture sectors which have been directly affected. He added that a committee on the COVID-19 is meeting weekly specifically every Tuesday and Friday.
The creation of a KEPSA portal had been requested by the committee of which it was developed with some information related to COVID-19. Mr. Roberts added that KEPSA put up a call center with the short code number 1196. He added that KEPSA has not been active in providing content for the platform.
An information gathering site was also created on the Ushahidi platform hosting various surveys on the business and social impact of COVID-19. A document was circulated by KEPSA Secretariat for members to fill in with the top needs for the ICT sector. The main requests are: reduce excise duty charged on broadband subscription but has not gone through the tax Bill, recognition of ICT as an essential service to enable people to move around and carryout maintenance on broadband networks and lastly, recognize E-commerce as an essential service.
On the E-commerce front, KEPSA badges have been issued to E-commerce staff to operate past curfew hours. However, it was not clear whether E-commerce is listed in the essential service list. Mr. Roberts added that the first couple of days were disruptive but all was good.
The badges have helped them continue with operations past curfew hours across different industries. They have been helping people access basic needs in both manufacturing and agriculture. The E-commerce sector has also been working well to help with various distribution systems. A major concern for the sector is that if there is to be a total lockdown then the sector would come crashing down.
The sector therefore populated and came up with two requests: The official classification in the gazette of e-commerce as an essential service and vendors delivering essential goods to be allowed to operate in the event of a total lockdown. Secondly, is to allow restaurants to stay open overnight for delivery during the curfew hours.
Telecommunications front, everything was working well until the partial lockdown of Nairobi and Mombasa. The conversation was revisited with the Ministry of Interior with two incidents on the first day with the engineers being frustrated. Further to this, everything is back to normal and their engineers can operate freely after curfew.
It was also noted that there have been delays with imports and scarcity of freight flights in addition to delays with exports from China with a lot of consumers being affected. Another issue is the type of approvals that are being done by The Communications Authority of Kenya adding to as much as 30 days to an import process. A commitment had been made that these approvals will be achieved within 3 to 4 working days. The normal working days is 35. The performance has gone down due to the increase in workload.
It was noted that the best resolution is to borrow what South Africa is doing through a gazette notice where it allows for automatic waivers/granting temporarily of type approvals during this pandemic. Further to this, such an example can be shared with the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Ministry of ICT for their consideration during this pandemic.
It was also noted that most Telco’s are not adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic from a business point of view yet because of the switch to working at home resulting in the demand for high-speed broadband services and other subsequent applications such as zoom and Microsoft teams. This means that data traffic is shifting from an office environment to people’s homes, which is okay but upgrades will be needed in various places. The high demand for consumer broadband will lead to high demand for installation equipment and Customer premise equipment (CPE) to connect people. One of the major risks associated with connecting people with broadband is that if networks stopped working, there would not be essential spares as a result.
On innovation, the sector is looking at a structured way of giving support to innovators as much as they can. These include financial and infrastructure. The proposal is to create an innovation and resource center where all the support can be put in and then directed to innovators. This will be good for innovators especially post COVID-19 with support coming from the tech community and private sector. The next course of action is to host the platform starting with a demo that will support several services.
The film industry informed members that local and overseas production has ceased until the end of the year for overseas production. It was proposed that KEPSA step in and engage the government on incentives, waivers, visas, and location. Producers should be ready with scripts that can be shot in Kenya to make movies as soon as the lockdowns are lifted especially now that there is time.
It was proposed that broadcasters be ready, have the various policies in place, have overseas broadcasters come and shoot films in Kenya by giving them the right incentives and scripts that need to be shot here have been vetted. In conclusion, Members were informed of the Pandemic Response and Management Bill which is sponsored by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja. The Bill was circulation by the Senate for comments and its due submission date is Friday 1st May 2020. It has key aspects that affect the private sector especially on employment and labour relations and tax incentives. Members were requested to give input through KEPSA before the deadline.