Opposition To Kenyan “Anti-Innovation” ICT Bill Grows 13/07/2016 by Maina Waruru for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)A bill introduced in Kenya’s parliament intended to streamline, govern and regulate the country’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been met with opposition from different quarters over fears that it could put ICT technicians out of practice and stifle the country’s innovation capacity if passed into law. A young Kenyan ICT technician at a solar power hub in Kajiado county south of Nairobi The Information Communication Technology Practitioners Bill 2016 [pdf] has been received with hostility from Kenyans from different quarters in the country who argue that the proposed law would leave practice of the ICT sector in the hands of a few – mainly university graduates who hold a bachelor’s degree in the field – locking out thousands of non-university graduates. The Kenya government has disowned the private member’s bill introduced in parliament to regulate and govern the ICT sector, and which is being loudly condemned as “anti-innovation” and which would have the effect of stifling growth in the sector. The bill seeks to control and regulate the ICT sector, spelling out the fees practitioners can charge and decreeing the kind of training and qualifications they should hold. “It has come to the Ministry of Information Communications and Technology’s attention that an Information Communication and Technology Bill 2016 was debated in parliament on July 6 2016. The Ministry would like to clarify that the bill whilst dealing with the ICT sector does not originate from the ministry and does not represent the policy position of the government of Kenya,” said the statement signed by ICT minister Joe Mucheru and issued on the same day as the bill. “The constitution of Kenya allows submission of private member’s bill to parliament and the government encourages participation of all stakeholders with a view to gaining robust legislation, we believe that further consultations would alleviate some of the concerns that have arisen during today’s debate,” the minister continued. The minister added that the government is undertaking a review of ICT policy guidelines and a draft policy had been prepared by the ministry and posted on its website to enable input from members of the public. “The ICT ministry welcomes public views and notes that the ICT practitioners bill is not congruent with the draft policy” from the ministry, the minister said. What the Bill Says The Practitioners Bill was drafted by Majority Leader Adan Duale, who is of the same party as the government. The bill seeks to make wide-ranging changes to the way the sector operates in a bid to streamline and regulate it, but the ministry feels the proposed law does not encourage growth of the sector and goes against the spirit of innovation. Under the controversial bill tabled in the National Assembly on 6 July, an ICT Practitioners Institute governed by a council would be created while practitioners themselves will not only be registered but will also be licensed- a provision interpreted by Kenyans online (people taking to online platforms, social media, blogs etc.) as meant to lock out all those not registered or licenced from engaging in any kind of ICT work. In one of the most contentious clauses in the proposed law, only degree holders in an ICT related field and from a recognised university shall be legible for registration as practitioners. They must further have at least three years of experience in the field or hold a diploma from a recognised university and must “have passed an examination or fulfilled such requirements as may be prescribed by the Practitioners Council.” Additionally, they must be judged to by the Council to be of “good moral character, fit and proper persons to be registered and licensed under the act.” In what would lead to the creation of a powerful body – the ICT Practitioners Institute (IPI) – run by a governing council, the bill for example says that no person shall practice as an ICT practitioner unless such person has been issued with a valid practice licence by the Council. Further, the anticipated powerful council may issue to an ICT practitioner “a license to practice on their own behalf or to be employed in accordance to the provisions of this act, but such a person shall not operate an ICT firm unless the firm has a certificate of registration of a business name or certificate of incorporation or the firm has at least one partner or principal shareholder who is registered as an ICT practitioner and who has a valid practicing licence.” The above requirements that will see the sector currently dominated by college certificate and diploma holders run like the legal or medical professions, has sent shockwaves throughout the field, where the majority of the players fall in the above two categories (and therefore are not qualified to be licensed or registered), though they are are responsible for most innovations in the country. Besides dictating who can practice, the proposed law will set fees to be charged by those allowed to practice, something critics say may not be possible in a liberalised free market economy. If it comes into law, the fees they charge will be determined by guidelines set by the Institute of Practitioners Council. It is this lack of stringent regulation that has seen thousands of young diploma and certificate holders in ICT self-employ and come up with hundreds of ICT applications and programmes. The middle level qualifications holders have through their work made Kenya a continental leader in innovations, including the world acclaimed mobile money transfer app, M-pesa. Reactions “The Bill is by a clueless cohort who have never put their time in the trenches to really get a grasp of what an “enabling environment” and “standards” would portend for a government looking to grow the knowledge economy and making us net exporters of value,” lamented Mbugua Njihia, a recognised ICT expert, in an opinion piece published in Kenya’s Business Daily. With Kenyans taking to online forums to voice their opposition to the bill, questions over motive of the mover persist, with one blogger Mzalendo.com reading an ulterior intention to control the sector, “its practitioners and operational space.” “Already Kenya is among the top African countries after South Africa and Nigeria with a growing number of startups which are able to access international funding and offer employment opportunities, so will they die a sudden death because their founders do not have an academic background in ICT, what about the jobs created as a result or the innovation on display?” posed publisher of the blog Mzalendo.com. “The drafters of this Bill fail to realise that a country is developed by results and not academic certificates, most of the ICT practitioners are self-taught and are making not only a living but also transforming the digital space through their creativity,” continued the blogger. On its part, the ICT ministry says that the aim of its draft ICT policy [pdf] was to among other things promote adequate competition in all relevant markets, in products, function and geographical reach while at the same time promoting investment and innovations. It lists encouragement of innovation, attraction of investment and promotion of ease of doing business for a positive social and economic impact through ICT, promotion of standards, standardisation of ICT products and services for quality assurance, and adherence to the national and international standards as some of the priority areas in the draft. A Vote of Industry Support Meanwhile, the proposed law has received support from the ICT Association of Kenya (ICTAK) has moved to side with the bill saying that it tries to provide a framework for training, registration and standards of ICT in the country. “Once enacted, the various provisions enlisted will go a long way not only to elevate the standards of ICT practice in Kenya but to also avail a blueprint that will help counter multiple challenges that accompany emergent technologies,” said a statement by ICTAK Secretary General Kamotho Njenga. The bill, the statement said, will bring order, accountability and professionalism into the ICT sector and create an organised profession along the ranks of others such as law, media, and accountancy which enjoy statutory recognition. 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