[dropcap]L[/dropcap]et me start by saying that not many Kenyans are familiar with the work of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). True? Well, at least not in the way, or at the level, people are aware of the existence and basic functions of say, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. To be fair though, surveys show that Kenyans are generally disappointed with service delivery in the public sector.
For CA, however, I think this is not by design, but rather by omission. The CA could not have deliberately fashioned itself to operate in an ivory tower, or to be out of reach to the majority. Most probably this is as a result of resource constrains, or just gaps in implementing its strategic plan. Most of CA’s activities are usually heard of in the media, mainly when the Director General Francis Wangusi, is reading the riots act to media houses, mobile phone companies or internet service providers for non-compliance with various regulations.
Therefore, the recent review and relaunch of the authority’s service delivery charter should be the beginning of a more client-centred modus operandi. During the launch last week, Mr Wangusi said CA had also put in place monitoring, evaluating and disseminating tools to gauge responsiveness to customer needs as dictated by Articles 46 and 232 of the Constitution of Kenya that require all public institutions to offer quick, quality and efficient services to citizens.
The CA service charter focuses on the individual as the source and driver of change through its mantra, “OUR PROMISE – Change is Me”. It is not clear, though, who is being referred to in the latter between the authority and the client. The DG says the document should act as a platform for enhancing constructive criticism and dialogue between the authority and its clients. The format of the document is typically public sector template, with the usual letter from the DG and CA’s purpose, vision, mission, core values and so on in the preamble.
The core of the service charter is based on offering high standards of service. The main services outlined include licensing, handling complaints and access to information and communication technologies (ICT). It ends with listing the rights and obligations of clients, CA’s commitment to its mandate and formalities in the means of contacting the authority.
The CA launched the charter in Nairobi with a roadshow. Thereafter, the authority plans to conduct a 12-day mobile phone based awareness campaign on the charter. Now, undertaking a roadshow only in Nairobi is like preaching to the converted. There is need to make CA’s operations felt at the grassroots level. Many people in the rural areas are undergoing serious challenges in the use of media and ICT, but have nowhere to channel their grievances for professional advice.
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Critically, the charter still falls short of breaking new ground in the new Internet-based dispensation. It cannot be business as usual for the custodian of public interest in the ubiquitous communication sector while millions of new users are subscribing to online services every year.
CA is also still held hostage by its regulatory mould. While this is implied in its mandate as an “authority”, it should not be solely about fault-finding and wielding the big stick. For instance, what incentives has CA established to encourage and facilitate innovation in the communications industry in the country at all levels? How is the authority protecting fledgling players in the industry by giving them preferential treatment in cases where their input can add equal value to the big players?
There should be more affirmative action similar to the case where the authority apparently favoured the locally owned Jamii Telecom in the issuance of a mobile services licence. While there were accusations that the country could have lost billions in unpaid licence fees, I believe that the long-term benefits of such a move is a boost to local entrepreneurship and ensuring that Kenyans are equal players with foreigners in ownership of our airwaves and frequencies.
The other issue that the CA needs to focus a lot of effort on is not only in universal, but also affordable access. It is not right that the dominant player in the market, Safaricom, continues to charge high tariffs even as it is way ahead of the pack in the number of subscribers, and in both the quantity and quality of equipment. Rock bottom offers by its competitors have done little to dent its pole position.
The year 2018, by which CA’s vision states that there should be universal access to and use of information and communication services, is just six months away. That is still a long shot which can nonetheless be achieved in the medium term through enhancing an enabling environment at all levels of the ICT sector.
The writer is a communication consultant and public policy analyst. Email: [email protected]