‘Whitebox’: Good initiative but has glaring loopholes

The government has for months hinted at a lab dubbed ‘Whitebox’ that would provide techpreneurs with access to government business.

It is one thing to win a government contract, it is quite another to fund it. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • The Whitebox, positioned as key to catalysing the Big Four Agenda, would be welcome if it were a new thinking.
  • Unfortunately the little that has been let out by way of a roadmap reeks of the recycling and mash-up of other initiatives gone before, driven by a very participatory private sector.

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The government has for months hinted at a lab dubbed ‘Whitebox’ that would provide techpreneurs with access to government business coupled with auxiliary support in the form of legal, business and miscellaneous resources to review, refine and perchance then make available for agencies a portfolio of services for procurement.

The Whitebox, positioned as key to catalysing the Big Four Agenda, would be welcome if it were a new thinking. Unfortunately the little that has been let out by way of a roadmap reeks of the recycling and mash-up of other initiatives gone before, driven by a very participatory private sector. Enterprise Kenya and it’s clone Rising Star had in many ways articulated how government could both procure and support local technology enterprises and package exportable value in partnership with established industry associations.

The success of the Whitebox, aptly named after the software testing technique where internal structures are well known before being put through the motions and which can be loosely interpreted as transparency will in my opinion be hinged on how the following three issues are handled.

Local and Citizen Contractors This conversation continues in the shadows where it is felt that multinational corporations with local offices cannot be viewed with the same lens as indigenous outfits.

This is because the procurement provisions that are meant to confer direct benefit for local enterprises are easily circumvented with subcontracting happening at the end of the day anyway. How will balance be achieved if at all?

It is one thing to win a government contract, it is quite another to fund it with what are often times very unfavourable payment terms that require a healthy project runway.

The idea that is Biashara Bank and Biashara Fund is great, and this aggregation of capital, should it materialise would best find a place in the core service offering as LPO financing or other milestone-based settlement model.

In truth, for every opportunity there are multiple service providers who feel up to the task. It needs to be understood what would happen in the case that government for example is looking for payment solution for all state corporations.

What is the checklist? What are the dependencies? Are consortia eligible? At this level, without this and other salient matters fully articulated we may still have to deal with systemic issues of “know who” since the “know how” is arguably at the same level. We know what needs to be done, here’s to hoping there is unencumbered follow through this time round.

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