Roo Reynolds, product manager, UK Government Digital Service, spoke to AfricaMoney on how the government of Mauritius, just like the UK government, is putting the user at the centre of e-governance. Our tech expert spoke of sharing his experiences as a product manager of the UK government site, and finding an echo in terms of how Mauritius is moving to a common platform (www.gov.mu) for all its public services.

  • Mauritius was ranked first in Sub-Saharan Africa by the World Economic Forum for using ICT to develop its economy. As a digital expert and, after discussions with relevant stakeholders in Mauritius over the last 2 days, what impression do you carry of the technology scape of the island economy?

Honestly, I was impressed by the high state of development of the island economy not only in the ICT domain but across sectors. In UK, and across Europe, the perception of Mauritius is more of a holiday destination and the rest of the economy is not showcased quite as well as the tourism sector. Looking at how well the economy is doing, I think it is time to publicize the successful efforts of Mauritius in diversifying its economy.

Coming to ICT, I can speak with confidence on the public domain and how well the e-governance strategy is working out in Mauritius. Having interacted in depth with the Prime Minister and the ICT Minister, besides other high ranking members of the cabinet over the last few days, I carry an overwhelmingly positive impression of the way the digitization of public services is proceeding. Just to show how well the digitization of public services is working in Mauritius, I learnt during the digital workshop that over 90% of tax payers have moved to e-filing in 2014 – which is a major milestone by any stretch. The digital workshop organized by Emtel was also a great forum to interact with important stakeholders from the ICT domain and Emtel did an amazing job of pulling off an event on such a grand scale.

  • Incidentally, island nations appear to be leading Sub-Saharan Africa in leveraging ICT for economic development, with Mauritius and Seychelles ranked first and second respectively in the region. UK and Mauritius both being island nations, do you feel that there are certain common learnings in ICT that can be applied across the two countries?

Yes, most certainly. Getting the opportunity of sharing my experiences as a product manager of the UK government site, and finding an echo in terms of how Mauritius is moving to a common platform (www.gov.mu) for all its public services, was a great experience. It also served to show me how the government of Mauritius is putting the user at the centre of its services, which is incidentally also a cornerstone of the UK government’s attempts to makeits website (www.gov.uk) more search friendly, and overall, more user friendly.

[blockquote style=”2″]“In Mauritius, the government has identified 13 priority services, and expressed willingness to extend digitization to other public services too. And, just like in the UK, the register to vote e-service is one of the priority areas.”[/blockquote]

This ambition in itself is great, and what makes it even better is that the roll-out is also proceeding smoothly. The government of Mauritius is genuinely keen and excited about delivering services to the public in a digital domain. As one of the ministers said, the e-governance wave is not about merely a digital transition of public services, but an attempt to transform government services altogether.

To give an instance of how we in the UK government have been approaching these services, we have been working on many ambitious new projects to turn inefficient, outdated and entirely paper-based government services into cutting-edge digital ones. We have identified 25 exemplar services, of which the most far-reaching influence will be that of the register to vote e-service. We believe that as many as 45 million people will benefit from the digitization of register to vote. Also, just to highlight our focus on the digitization of public services, we now have a rule that any project proposed for the public domain must be supported by a working model that proves it is capable of being digitized. That in itself, more than anything else, supports our single-minded focus on moving services to the digital domain for ease of use.

Similarly, here in Mauritius, the government has identified 13 priority services, and expressed willingness to extend digitization to other public services too, basis their experience and user feedback received in these areas. And, just like in the UK, the register to vote e-service is one of the priority areas for the government of Mauritius too.

  • Are there any challenges you faced in transitioning services to the digital domain? Any project in particular that you’d like to bring to our attention?

Certain challenges do arise, since in the course of this digital transformation, we not only look at how the service can best be digitized, but also question the existing processes and procedures for implementing the service.

For instance, one of the projects we have been looking at is for the Office of the Public Guardian. It handles the process of setting up lasting power of attorney for people who, for one reason or another, need someone else to take over the handling of their financial and legal affairs. For this service, we have queried the rationale for a wet signature, where the original document is required and the signature currently has to be made with wet ink.

Going back to policy makers and secondary legislation to find out why the wet signature is required and to find a way around the same, was a challenge we willingly took up to make the service more convenient and relevant to users.

At the end of it all, asking questions of convention allows us to meet user needs rather than setting up a service that will be wasted because users do not find it useful, or find it too cumbersome to avail of it.