Kampala, Wednesday 08 April 2020. To stem the spread of COVID-19, the Government of Uganda has imposed restrictive measures in the last couple of days including a mandatory work from home policy and 14-day lockdown as mechanisms to halt the pandemic’s growth and suppress transmission.
As part of its mission to eradicate poverty, reduce inequalities and build resilience to crises and shocks, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has provided a collaboration tool, Zoom, and an assortment of ICT gadgets to enable virtual government business continuity as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affects routine operations in several ministries, departments and agencies as well as the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.
In the package worth $600,000 (about 2.3 billion shillings), UNDP Uganda has provided Zoom Collaboration Tool Licenses; and computers (laptops) and HD video conferencing cameras worth $97,035 (Shs 370 million).
In so doing, UNDP is leveraging digital innovation to enable the Government to maintain its core functions, and to plan, coordinate, communicate and finance its response to COVID-19 in a robust manner. This initiative is also expected to accelerate and promote e-governance in the medium-to-long term.
By last week, over 81 government institutions including 40 districts had key officials registered and enabled to remotely video-conference in supporting government business continuity. Notable examples include the Office of the Prime Minister, the Office of the President, Ministry of Local Government, and Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.
This week, government has taken bold steps to expand the usage of Zoom licenses to support government continuity. In a letter dated April 6, 2020, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Mr. Vincent Bagiire Waiswa, wrote to all Permanent Secretaries, CEOs and Accounting Officers in all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of Government and Local Governments announcing remote working modalities for public officers, thanks to the UNDP offer.
He wrote: “As you will recall, His Excellency the President issued the first directives in response to COVID-19 on March 18, 2020 with the specific emphasis on decongesting key human collection areas such as schools, churches and mosques. On March 30, 2020, the President further directed that among others, Government workers stay home for 14 days except for the Army, the Police, the health workers, the electricity, water and telecommunications workers.”
“In view of the above and the need for continuity of Government business, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and the National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U) working with the Office of the Prime Minister and with support from UNDP secured 10,000 Zoom video conferencing application licenses,” Mr. Bagiire added.
Based on UNDP’s offer, he asked all accounting officers to identify critical staff members to be connected to Zoom to facilitate business continuity in their respective organisations.
In agreement, Mr. James Saaka, the Executive Director of NITA-U welcomed the initiative saying, “It’s important that during the COVID-19 lockdown, Government continues to coordinate its business and provide government services to its citizens, whilst working from home. Activation of usage of the Zoom tool in MDAs and LGs will enable this to happen. The Zoom tool enables seamless continuation of Government business between Government officials while working from home. We would like to thank UNDP for the support in terms of provision of Zoom enterprise licenses to make this happen.”
Ms. Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative, noted that the offer provides a paradigm shift in the way the Government responds to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as deliver public services in a convenient, efficient customer-oriented and cost-effective way.
Attafuah underscored that tackling COVID-19 – a crisis that transcends health – requires a whole-of-Government and integrated crisis management response approach. Ms. Attafuah said, “The novel COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. I believe that UNDP’s support will improve coordination of COVID-19 response and recovery, strengthen service delivery in this critical time and drastically reduce physical contact to limit the spread of the disease. As always, UNDP is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for everyone, everywhere. We will continue to assist Uganda in overcoming the setbacks brought on by this epidemic.”
Partnership with WhatsApp to boost COVID-19 communication
UNDP has also, working with WHO, UNICEF and WhatsApp, created an information hub that will get real-time healthcare to billions around the world. The hub provides simple, actionable guidance for health workers, educators, community leaders, nonprofits, local governments and local businesses that rely on WhatsApp to communicate. The site also offers general tips and resources for users around the world to reduce the spread of rumors and connect with accurate health information. See details in link below: www.undp.org
The longer-term social and economic impact of this crisis will be profound. UNDP is also working in partnership with the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and the UN Country Team in Uganda, to understand the social, economic and political impacts of the crisis, and to find ways to mitigate them with sustainable, resilient and rights-based solutions crafted with the public and private sectors.