Major Technological Provisions in the Mauritius Budget 2012

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Inf

The Finance Minister, Hon. Xavier L. Duval has started his budget speech with a fair number of technology-related provisions. Most of them are quite significant for our country, and I can only hope they will be implemented. The Minister mandates that they be implemented by March 2013, and we hope to see most of them implemented. Below are the major measures announced and my take on them. Your opinions are appreciated; hit the comments section if possible.

I think I got all of the IT related measures, but if I missed any, drop me a word in the comments.

Decrease in price for entry-level Broadband

The price of the cheapest broadband available, which I believe is Orange Decouverte, currently priced at Rs. 349 a month, capped at 3GB, 256Kbps will be decreased to Rs. 200 a month to allow financially-vulnerable families access to broadband.

This is a good measure. I’m always for seeing the Internet price falling in Mauritius. This, coupled with another measure that comes later in this article, regarding tablets, will increase the Internet penetration in Mauritius if implemented.

Decrease in International Lease Line prices

A 15% decrease in International line price will be effected, which should reduce Internet connection prices across the board for operators. Again, a good measure considering that we’re paying large amounts for slow connections. Overall, I guess we’ll be expecting a cut in Internet price cut by the end of the year, if not the start of the next year from the major operators. Hopefully!

Note, this is not a direct cut in Internet prices, but this one will follow some time later, as operators decide what the cut will be.

While I’d rather the speed increases instead of price falling so often, this is still a welcome measure. I hope Bharat Telecom hears! Especially on their higher-end Internet connections.

Extending fiber optic connection to secondary schools

This should allow secondary schools to benefit from higher Internet connections. Honestly, am not sure this can be implemented so easily. Considering how BTL is having issues rolling out its fiber network, am not sure the Government will be able to do a better or faster job at rolling out fiber to all our secondary schools, scattered all throughout the island.

Well if they do, all for the better since it’ll be developing the overall fiber network of Mauritius, which at this moment, is virtually inexistant for home users. I believe businesses and exchanges are already benefiting from fiber, but we need faster Internet for homes, and without fiber, this isn’t going to happen soon. Fiber rollout must happen sooner or later if Mauritius wishes to wear the tag “Cyber Island” with pride. I do hope the ISPs  hear and start considering Fiber-To-The-Home (FTTH).

Increase the number of 4G hubs in Mauritius and sharing poles etc…

Mauritius is one of the rare countries in the Indian Ocean that has started 4G rollout, although 4G itself hasn’t been standardized yet as far as I know. Nevertheless, it’s a great measure, at least if it is implemented.

Faster internet on-the-go is always a welcome measure, assuming the price is right. We’ll see how this is implemented, given how the rollout decisions lie with mobile operators and not with Government.

Freeing wireless spectrum by turning off  analogue TV

This was already announced in a past budget, so nothing new here. I guess the freeing up of spectrum would allow more wireless services in Mauritius, and a less crowded spectrum overall.

Revamping of Privacy Laws, especially regarding Cloud Computing

Unfortunately the Minister was not too clear about what will be revamped, except mentioning the measure. There are many things to fix, and I wish that Mauritius would make Internet access a legal right to Mauritians as a few other countries have done.

I’d wish there were tighter data protection laws, data retention laws for cloud providers, ISPs etc, but at the moment, there’s nothing more on this. Definitely something to look forward to, but again, if it is implemented.

Increasing the bandwidth to Rodrigues

Rodrigues will soon be expecting an Internet speed boost if this measure is implemented. Rodrigues is to be allocated more bandwidth through the LION 2 cable and newly established satellite links.

That was regarding the Internet-related measures. On to the remaining measures announced.

All Form 4 students to be allocated a Tablet

Yup! So now, all Form 4 kids will be allocated a tablet. For them to conduct research and whatever else they wish to do on tablets. Unfortunately, the Minister doesn’t mention which tablet that is, but I guess it will be the Rs. 3000 tablet that Orange is marketing. That should be affordable enough for the Government while at the same time provide appreciable performance for day to day apps. The company would be very happy I guess, providing 20, 000 tablets for kids. The people will have to spend a Rs. 500 one-time fee to cover insurance in case of damage or loss.

Well, it’s a good thing to increase IT penetration in Mauritius. However, I doubt how useful a tablet is on itself for actually doing research and typing documents and assignments that are required for school. Still a good measure, if you don’t have a laptop or computer at home. You can always hook a keyboard to Android and start typing.

Oh and in case you’re wondering about Internet access for kids under 18, the tablet will be “reasonably protected against Internet abuse” as the Minister said.

Parliamentarians will be provided with a Tablet

I guess the parliamentarians will not want to be left out. After the IT Minister was laughed at for using his tablet in the parliament, the Finance Minister has announced that every parliamentary will be provided with a tablet with a view to reduce the use of paper. They will use emails to exchange messages and order papers, as it was mentioned.

Good measure! I like seeing the use of IT increase, wherever it is. Oh and now, they can’t make fun of the IT Minister using his tablet!

Of course, they will have to adapt the laws to allow electronic devices in the parliament, but I think it’s high time that this happens.

To further reduce the use of paper and wasted resources in Government, the budget for stationery (I’m not too sure I heard this right) will be cut, saving 40 million rupees yearly. Use of electronic services will be encouraged.

Let’s hope they don’t start playing Angry Birds in parliament! Or that they do, perhaps this will reduce the frequent use of… flowery language in parliament.

Proceeding towards eServices and the remaining measures.

Enabling Online Payment and Mobile Payment for Government services

It was announced that the MRA now accepts mobile payments. The Minister announced that by March 2013, 8 new departments will be accepting online payments via credit cards. Mobile payment will be extended by too.

Great measure! It’s high time we get to pay for stuff online now, instead of long queues for payments! I highly welcome this measure and I wish they extend it even more.

However, we need to consider the security measures to be taken to protect the data of people and reduce the risks involved in mobile payments. Let’s see how this one is implemented. Definitely one measure to look forward to. The side effect is that if this is implemented, more private sector departments will start implementing online payment too, given a robust framework. This should be a good boost for Mauritius overall. How long till we see a boost in online shopping in Mauritius.

Measures to increase the number of Startups in Mauritius

I always say we don’t have enough startups in Mauritius. Well, apparently Government has heard, finally. They are pushing ahead with two measures which will bring some additional startups and hopefully, give youths more incentives to start their own IT companies.

The Emerging IT Leaders award

This will provide people with a good business idea, if approved, with a capital fund of  USD$100, 000 to start their business in Mauritius! Great measure, made even greater by opening the award to internationals too! Please, let this be implemented! We’ll finally see our startups sector grow!

Incubator for application developers

Not much was said here, but the Minister announced the implementation of incubation centers for application developers. I hope this helps increase the number of startups too. Startups tend to hire creative programmers, for creative projects. Let’s see what they do with these incubators. I think this is related to something Accenture has recently announced, in partnership with MIT. I don’t have more info about this, except that

Free Online Courses

In partnership with MIT, free online courses in various sectors will be offered. No more information announced on this. More on this later.

There is already free courses offered online by the NCB, in the form of text. Not very interesting, despite being about interesting topics. I wish they did it in video, something like Khan Academy, but for Mauritius. This wouldn’t be too bad. Good for digital learning, overall.

This, with tablets for students and lower Internet costs, should yield some interesting results.

Head of IT-related Sectors in Government must be Professionals and IT-literate

Again, just an announcement. I’d like to see how this will be implemented, but it’s good for head of departments to be IT-literate at least. Let’s hope they’re given incentive to undergo constant training, especially people heading governmental IT sectors. It has to be continued training though, considering how fast IT evolves. A system similar to expiring certificates might be good enough.

Merging of various IT-related departments into a homogeneous body

Government wants to merge various bodies, such as Central Informatics Bureau, IT Security departments etc… into a single body to better provide services regarding IT for government.

Not much to say here. These bodies are not very public-facing. You hardly hear of them usually. I can’t remember the last time I heard CERT-MU being mentioned in the news for e.g. Let’s see what happens after this is done. If Government wants to move forward with increasing provided eServices, they will need good services provided and good consultants. If these departments are merged, they will probably be able to provide more unified and consistent suggestions.

Introduction of Biometric Passports

Just an announcement, with no further details at the moment. Other countries are already using biometrics, such as finger prints along with passports. I’m not too sure how the Government will include these information in passports, but let’s wait and see if this is implemented.

Digital Signatures for Online Transactions

The last time I checked, Mauritius already has its own Certificate Authority, run by ICTA. The Ministry announced that online transactions will be conducted and signed by digital signatures.

I’m not sure he fully understood the concept of digital signatures when he announced this. Well, either he misunderstood digital signatures – the whole PKI setup around it for e.g., or I did not. Perhaps digital signatures will be just a writing on eDocuments. I doubt though. I’m not sure how this will be implemented. Wait and see.

Customs Brokers no longer required for products below Rs. 30,000

I’m not sure I heard that quite right. The Minister has announced that a Customs Broker is no longer required when clearing items costing less than Rs. 30,000. Previously, the limit was Rs. 10,000. Now, you can buy your camera, or whatever electronic products online without having to get a Customs Broker.

I’m not sure to what this measure applies to. The announcement was made really fast and no details given. Hopefully I got this right. People can now more easily buy stuff online, costing up to Rs. 30,000, without having to go through an additional step involving a broker.

For more information about the problem, refer to this post by Yashvin.

Conclusion

That’s about it for the technology-related measures announced in the Budget 2012. Let’s hear your views and comments now. To me, there are some good measures there.

There are measures which we expect year by year, such as Internet prices falling. Always welcome, but I wish we got more speed too. Perhaps some incentives for ISPs to accelerate their fiber rollouts? We won’t be able to get faster speeds over copper anytime soon, so fiber has to come someday, soon hopefully. Nothing about Internet speed in this budget, unfortunately, except prices.

Other announcements are quite surprising, such as a free tablet for form 4 students. Good measure, if implemented. Giving students new tools to play with and develop on is a great idea. This, coupled with the measures for startups, like application incubator centers, will hopefully increase our startup sector, perhaps in the mobile-application sector. Who knows, a Mauritian Instagram or Pinterest perhaps? Well, giving every HSC student a laptop was in the electoral programme, but not implementable. Perhaps tablets are more affordable, but not as useful as laptops generally. Still progress!

Other measures, sadly, look like mere announcements! Like the one regarding digital signatures. Or the one about head of IT sectors being IT literate. It’s not easy to ask people to go train in the context of their job overnight. Well if implemented, it will be a good thing, but I’m not too hopeful regarding this. Of course, am not saying every head of department out there is not IT illiterate, but generally in Government, IT in Government still looks like something special, unfortunately.

Anyway, that’s about it for the budget 2012, regarding technology stuffs. Let’s see your views and opinions.

P.s. Something interesting during the  Budget 2012. Mauritian tweeters were very active during the budget speech. A good sign! I wish journalists next year start live-tweeting comments on the budget too, instead of comments after the speech. Something like live coverage tech sites do for product releases abroad. Minute-by-minute coverage using tweets would be a good step forward for the Mauritian IT sector. This was done by tweeters themselves this year.

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  • Ref customs brokers no longer required for products below Rs.30,000 – that is confirmed by paragraph 337 of the budget speech. “Recourse to the services of a custom broker is presently required to obtain delivery of articles imported by post or courier services if their value exceeds 10,000 rupees. I am raising this limit to 30,000 rupees.”

  • Mike informed me about this 30k limit. That’s a good news for online shopaholics 🙂

    I will update my post soon…