Raila: Uhuru should not sign ICT bill into law

Mr Raila Odinga and Martha Karua.

Photo credit: File

Azimio Presidential candidate Raila Odinga has appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta not to sign into law the ICT Practitioners Bill 2020 that was enacted by the National Assembly on Wednesday last week.

Mr Odinga in a statement released by his private secretary Mr Dennis Onyango, says that he finds the Bill vague yet loaded with sweeping powers over the ICT sector, with no clarity on the specific problem it is meant to address.

During its passage, MPs described the Bill as very progressive and if implemented it will help reduce the chaos and confusion in the ICT sector while at the same time providing a legal framework of the recognition, registration, licensing of the ICT practitioners in Kenya.

However, Mr Odinga finds the move to regulate the ICT Practitioners in the country impractical and counter-productive.

“It negates the goals and visions of the national ICT policy and digital strategies. It amounts to regulating talent which damages innovation and limits growth,” says Mr Odinga but without demonstrating how.

Mr Odinga's comments on the Bill come after ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru said the Bill is not good for the sector.

"As a ministry, we continuously fought against this Bill in various forums. The political season comes with all manner of surprises including failed assurances by the people responsible. I will do my part to safeguard our thriving sector," said Mr Mucheru without explaining further. 

But even as Mr Odinga and Mucheru spoke, Dr Shem Ochuodho an expert in the sector who goes by the name- the father of the ICT sector in the country and beyond- said that the passage of the Bill is the best thing that ever happened to the sector and the 12th parliament.

“The country should be proud of this Bill because it seeks to promote creativity, innovation, ethics, and standards and create decent jobs in the ICT sector. This Bill promotes competence and deep knowledge. Those who have always benefited from lack of structures in the industry will oppose this Bill,” said Dr Ochuodho.

The Bill is among those that are awaiting to be taken to President Uhuru Kenyatta for presidential assent. Article 115 of the constitution provides that the President has 14 days to sign a Bill into law from the day it is presented to him.

In the event the president declines to sign a Bill, he has a constitutional obligation to return the Bill together with a memorandum to the originating House explaining his reservations on the Bill and the areas that require correction by the MPs.

But with the National Assembly having adjourned sine die (without the designated date and time of the next meeting) on Thursday last week, it is tricky what the President will do in the event he rejects to sign the Bill.

In this case, a special sitting may suffice to consider the presidential memorandum.

Article 116 provides that if the President has not signed the Bill and has not returned it to the originating House with a memorandum explaining his reservations, the Bill becomes law on its own motion.

The ICT Practitioners Bill seeks to fight cybercrime, a real danger to the economy.

The passage of the Computer Misuse and Cybercrime Act has not helped much due to implementation challenges.

For that Act to work the authorized person's as defined in the Act must be regulated and issued with practicing licenses.

“The ICT Practitioners Bill provides the framework of licensing the Authorized persons,” says Dr Ochuodho.

The Bill was praised as the antidote to the growth of the ICT sector in the country during its consideration in the House.

This is based on the fact that the ICT sector is riddled with many local and international quacks leading to poor and costly service delivery.

The Bill therefore, seeks to rein in the “quacks” in the sector and ensure adherence to ethical standards, which means that the genuine ICT professionals will have a voice and their career progression is guaranteed.

If signed into law, the Bill will enhance ICT innovation as innovative youth with compelling innovation will be admitted to the Institute without a demand for academic qualification.

It also provides a framework through regulations that shall be formulated by the ICT council on self-regulation of the ICT sector through formal accreditation of various associations leading with various aspects of ICT like computer forensics and software engineering among others.

However, the Azimio presidential candidate instead prefers that registration of ICT Practitioners be voluntary and not mandatory.

“Mr Odinga wants the Industry to be allowed to develop voluntary standards in collaboration with stakeholders in a manner that incentivizes compliance with the standards,” says Mr Dennis.

Mr Odinga also feels that the Bill does not account for the ever changing dynamics of the industry, limits innovation by restricting those who are self-taught to provide ICT services and negates the recognition of prior learning objectives that the country is committed to.

Interestingly, it is on the same day that the MPs also passed the Insurance Professionals Registration Bill 2020 by Mumias East MP Bernard Washiali.

Mr Washali’s Bill seeks to regulate and clean the insurance sector.

In his statement, Mr Odinga took note and appreciated that entities like Google and Microsoft which now have their regional headquarters in the country are employing people without degrees and also offer certificates in ICT and technology that empower the youth.

Mr Odinga therefore believes that the Bill if signed into law will be a disincentive to such technology giants and discourage their further investments in the "Silicon Savannah".

“It is my view that Kenya needs to go the route of countries like Australia, US, Canada and South Africa that have adopted a self -regulating mechanism where ICT Practitioners come together to share skills, innovative ideas and determine standards to be upheld within the profession,” he said.

But even as Mr Odinga made his point on the Bill clear, the issues he is raising were contained in the original Bill as published and were dealt with at the amendment stage of the Bill.

Mr Odinga’s position on the Bill signals the many interests by the sector players among them the government, the multinationals and the local players.

During its consideration in the House, the country was told that naysayers who have benefitted from the sector confusion are engaged in an intense negative campaign to stop the signing of the “progressive Bill” into law.

Nigeria was forced to come up with a presidential executive order on ICT professional practice to deal with the challenge of cybercrime.

This came after the country had tried several times but failed to regulate the sector through legislation because of the many controversies brought up by competing interests in the sector.

The Bill also seeks to promote digital economy, effective implementation of ICT legislation, low cost of ICT services, enhanced tax revenue, quality and cost effective ICT services among others.

The government’s own digital economy policy recognizes ICT skills, training and competency as one of the seven pillars of economic growth.

It will be interesting how the government can achieve the goals of the digital economy in an environment where the ICT professional practice is not regulated.

Currently, there are many pieces of ICT laws that remain largely unimplemented because the key resource persons are not regulated.

For instance, the Data Protection Act recognizes key resource persons called Data Protection Officers who have a statutory duty to protect data in custody by data processors and data controllers.

These are largely ICT professionals whose training, certification, accreditation, registration and licensing shall be regulated with the implementation of the Bill.