ICT bill dampens Kenya's Silicon Savannah dream

A parliamentary session. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Are Kenyans less intelligent than citizens of other countries? Are we more criminal? Are we less capable? Less professional? Less trustworthy?

Then why do a seeming plurality of lawmakers think we lack capacity to make decisions for ourselves?

The ominous recent passing of the disastrous Information Communication Technology Practitioners Bill 2020 shows the world that our legislators think we are such ignorant jokers that we need the most restrictive, growth-harming, and medieval ICT legislation in the world.

Let us delineate positive versus hurtful aspects of industry associations to professionalise, strengthen, and protect their professions to assess the ICT Bill.

First, good aspects of industry associations involve the vigorous certification of practitioners in respective industries. The Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK) notably oversees one of the most robust and credible industry certifications in Africa.

But thankfully, anyone who does mathematics for business record purposes is not required by law to belong to ICPAK. Sadly, in bad comparison, the ICT Bill would force industry association membership for ICT practitioners.

Second, strong professional bodies should push for consumer protection measures with clear ethical standards. The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) famously performs client protection well with strong ethical provisions for advocates.

Resilient industry associations also accredit universities and colleges that teach industry-appropriate skills. Such standards usually exceed those of the Commission for University Education. An example is Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board that holds stout standards for pharmacy courses in tertiary institutions.

Third, industry associations should engage stakeholders including employers, clients, and practitioners. the Public Relations Society of Kenya (PRSK) and Institute of Human Resources Management (IHRM, both retain full-bodied strong stakeholder engagement, training, and networking.

Fourth, questionable aspects happen when associations place too narrow training requirements with only their own institutes or colleges as acceptable training options.

Unfortunately, this causes a lack of training or education competition in fields and leads to higher prices for practitioners and more convergent in the box thinking rather divergent innovative out of the box creative thinking.

Also, sometimes associations enact limits such that only those certified by the statutory body can broadly practice in their fields. The new ICT Bill mandates the creation of an ICT Practitioners Institute.

Many global bodies certify professionals, but do not restrict practitioners to only those with their certifications being able to work in an industry like the ICT Bill does.

In the UK, Chattered Accountants (CA) is the preferred accounting certification while ACCA is not preferred, though ACCA’s influence is growing globally.

But when there exist no threats to public safety and the public can clearly differentiate between certified and thus qualified with integrity compared to not certified, then why should governments punish those without forced certification with prison sentences or, in the case of the ICT Bill, unclear penalties. Instead, the market should value certification and demanding it rather than it being thrust upon them.

Let us not put in place unnecessary regulations requiring learning from only one college, examinations written by too few on a committee controlling an entire profession, pricing floors, or too much reliance on non-democratic bodies.

Fifth, registering practitioners in an industry does not necessarily lead to better standards.

Industry associations are notoriously slow to discipline their own members. Forced rather than voluntary government-controlled industry group registration often leads to cronyism, bureaucracy, decreases in efficiency, reduced competitiveness, and shrinks industries rather than grow them.

Sixth, unethical harmful aspects of industry associations come when they get statutory remuneration orders that require minimum charges in the profession.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a cartel as a combination of independent commercial or industrial enterprises designed to limit competition or fix prices. Let us not have our industry associations stifle sector competition like a cartel.

In Kenya, we have world-class professional service sector industries. Let us control and restrict quacks in our different sectors. Let us assure that those certified by industry bodies hold high integrity, phenomenal skills, and up-to-date current knowledge.

We already have the robust Computer Misuse Act and Cyber Crimes Act. But when industry bodies restrict competition, forced registration and training, then there exist disincentives against innovation and creativity.

We need divergent rather than forced convergent thinking. The true winners of the newly passed Kenya ICT Bill are our neighbours Uganda and Tanzania who undoubtedly are looking forward to welcoming our Kenyan Silicon Savannah technology firms to their shores.

If the ICT Bill comes into force as law, surely what then would come next from our lawmakers? Do we need an industry association that merchants selling along streets must register into that decides which colour trousers or dresses are worn on different days?

Must Kenyans pay to register with perhaps a new Kenyan Breathing Association to decide whether we inhale through our mouths or our nostrils at different hours of the day? Of course not. These silly notions are not too far-fetched compared to the farcical ICT Bill.

We must move beyond the misguided notion that bureaucracy solves most problems rather than the reality that it causes many problems.

If an impartial observer were to peer into our law-making process, they might wonder if many of our lawmakers’ sole intention is to hurt rather than help fellow Kenyans.

We already pay some of the highest personal and corporate tax rates in the world. Business registration and permit processes are lengthy and globally uncompetitive. Our electricity price per kilowatt hour are roughly four times the price consumers pay in the American state of North Dakota, for example.

Our higher education and research sector is one of the most highly regulated and restrictive in the world, yet we have one of the lowest research outputs per capita of any middle-income country.

Bureaucracy is not a solution. It is a crutch. Many of the best most innovative ICT legends would not even qualify to work in Kenya under the new ICT Bill.

Instead of sitting around in committee rooms thinking of ways to reward special interests and harm Kenyans, a mind shift must urgently be utilised that if we raise the competitiveness and innovation capacity of our industries, then surely all of us can win.

Instead of shrinking the proverbial cake and taking a bigger piece of that shrunken cake, why not increase the overall size of the cake and allow everyone to win and prosper?

[email protected] Twitter: @ScottProfessor

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