It’s that time of the year again where the budget for the year is presented and again this time, I go over the budget speech to find the goodies for the ICT and technologically-inclined sectors of Mauritius.
Before going through the measures there are a few interesting points that I noted in this year’s budget speech, namely:
- There is no price decrease for Internet access this time. This is usually a staple measure in the last budget speeches where the price of Internet access has consistently gone down.
- There is no mention of mobile Internet access despite an emphasis on the creation of more eServices and mobile apps. These consume data so a reduction in price would be appreciated.
- No mention of the introduction of technology in transport system such as the introduction of electronic tickets by various bus companies. I thought this would be a fairly big point and worth mentioning since the speech did note mobile apps.
- Some points of the budget speech were vague.
Without more delays, let’s see the main points:
- Usage of the term “digital society”:
- This is interesting. The term “Cyber Island” or its variants are not being used so much nowadays. I suppose “digital society” will be the new buzz word for a while considering the budget speech almost starts with mentioning this term.
We’re pretty much already a digital society; just see the number of smartphones in Mauritius. We have pretty decent Internet access facilities now, both fixed and mobile and the infrastructure is getting better. It took a fairly big leap with the rapid introduction of Fiber to the Home by Mauritius Telecom and the rapid rollout of fast Internet to businesses. The price of mobile Internet packages keep going down but as mentioned above, is absent from this budget speech.
I personally prefer this team as the emphasis is on the society and not some fixed thing like a “Cyber Island”. The island on its own isn’t very “cyber” but a society like ours can very well be a “digital society”. Young and older people alike are fully embracing technology and making full use of it. We just need more things to do on our mobiles apart from taking selfies. We’ll get there eventually, if we trust this budget speech.
- Reduction in trade fees for SMEs and tax holiday for SME
- DBM fast-track desk for micro-enterprises
Not much to say here but these two points will facilitate SME’s lives and increase the number of startups in Mauritius.
- Training 1000 young people in the field of ICT among others
- Addressing the skills mismatch
These two points cover the training aspect in ICT. The first point regards mainly the Youth Employment Programme. I’m always for training more young people and this can certainly help.
Unfortunately, we come to our first vague point. The budget speech only mentions addressing the skills mismatch but there is nothing on how this will be accomplished. For me, this sounds only like talking and no concrete way or method on how to do it. Not very convinced here, personally.
- Promoting 3D printing
This is an interesting point in that 3D printing is still in its infancy, especially here in Mauritius. No make labs etc here as far as I know. Yet we are seeing removal of VAT on 3D printers and their consumables. Government hopes these will be more used in the manufacturing sector.
At the same time, technopoles of Riviere du Rempart and Rose Belle will be equipped with 3D printers so setting up of make labs are on the agenda. Have these technopoles been built yet?? If so, I’m not aware.
- CEB going towards renewable energy and solar panels on houses
You will soon be able to sell electricity to CEB and equip your house with solar panels duty free. The system still costs a lot though.
- Information Highway for information sharing
That’s another buzz word right there: “Information Highway”. Government wants to facilitate the transfer and usage of information between organizations, with the introduction of 50 new eServices to allow public to access organizations. Again with the vagueness: no word on what those eServices will be. There are some clues in the speech and addendum; we’ll cover these as we go.
I’ve mentioned in previous services: we’re not becoming a “digital society” without eServices. When these are introduced, people are motivated to use technology as it facilitates their daily lives. It’s only then that a society really becomes technologically-inclined: when everyone is using technology daily.
- Appointment of a dedicated Chief Information Officer for ministries
Each ministry will have their own CIO to oversee their ICT projects and introduction of eServices. Let’s wait and see who they recruit to fill these high-ranking posts as the technical know-how required is not easy to obtain, particularly when you see how fast ICT is evolving and the new challenges such as information security and privacy.
- National Payment Switch & National Payment Bill
These measures will facilitate the introduction of local ePayment services, make online payment easier and generally lower fees on payment transactions. Not much details apart from that.
- National eCommerce platform for B2B
Vague again, nothing mentioned except that MEXA and Government will setup a platform to connect citizens and exporters together. How and when are not mentioned.
- Encourage the development of mobile applications by start-ups
That line is about the only thing mentioned for startups when it comes to technology. This point aligns with Government’s wish to introduce more eServices and who’s going to be developing those? Startups of course. Where those startups come from or how they are maintained are not mentioned in this speech. I suppose from the startup incubators that previous budget speeches spoke about.
We’re already seeing the introduction of a large number of mobile applications, including recently the app by District Council (?) of St Pierre where you can report things not working for example and get assistance more easily. We also liked the useful app by Orange where you could see the traffic status at various points towards Grand Bassin. More of these would be welcome by many I’m sure.
My personal wish: The introduction of an app by Mauritius Post so we can stop using those annoying package collection cards!
- Additional 250 free WIFI hotspots
More WIFI hotspots go a long way to make Internet access open to all. These will be available at traffic centers, district councils and municipalities mainly. Municipalities are already offering WIFI access and this will be extended. I particularly like how buses are introducing WIFI access on their own in semi low-floor buses.
- Digital tablets will be given to 1st and 2nd year primary school children
The first controversial measure for me. Do first and second year kids need a tablet? Will they even know how to keep the thing and not break it? Let’s not forget: there is very patchy WIFI coverage in schools at the moment and virtually no eLearning content. How is giving tablets to them be useful?
Parents also will not all be very happy about this. I know quite a few parents who are having problems keeping mobile phones and tablets out of their kids’ hands. We know how kids love their phones and how they keep screen-staring all day. Now schools are going to be giving them away. Talk about a headache!
- Introduction of a Faculty of Digital Technology & ICT Engineering
A new faculty at UoM. ICT education is currently given by the Faculty of Engineering. Abroad, it’s usually the Faculty of Science considering how the degrees are usually the BSc and MSc (science) types. What will it be here? No idea. Maybe a new BICT thing?
Personally, I find it a bit of a waste as it’s duplication of staff and resources considering how ICT is present in almost all Engineering and Science fields today. Do we really need a separate faculty? Also you’ll have ICT faculty staffers teaching modules in other faculties’ courses? Seems a bit of a mess.
- Third undersea cable
No mention on how this cable will be called, but Mauritius Telecom is trying to connect Mauritius to Africa again via another cable.
- CEB to provide high-speed Internet service through its dedicated fiber optic network
Another interesting point. CEB already has poles all over the country and if I’m not mistaken, has already run fiber cables through a lot of the country. How they’re not already giving Internet services is unimaginable. Would help boost CEB’s income too!
The only dark spot: If CEB’s Internet is as inconsistent as their electricity supply, we may have some problems.
On the same line, can we get online payment for bills as one of the eServices please??
- Safe City project
Smart thermal cameras will be installed in major public ares and will be used to combat crimes and manage traffic.
How smart are the cameras, what do they do, how they will help with above? Not mentioned.
I’m wondering if these cameras will be able to do facial recognition. The National ID card database full of facial signatures will be very helpful if so.
- Camera-equipped drones with night-vision
Drones to fight crime. Not much otherwise.
- Removal of VAT on CCTV systems
What it says.
- Modern equipment for coordination during National Emergency Operations
More vagueness. “Modern equipment” will be procured to assist during emergencies but no word on what those equipment will be.
- Disposal of electronic wastes
Another good point. We’re big consumers of technology and these inevitably end up dumped somewhere. Ever wondered where all those old CRT monitors went? All the old mobiles? The 3310s?
It’s a good idea to introduce some form of technology recycling, even if we just take all our waste and dump it on some company abroad to do the actual recycling. At least these things are not ending up in undeveloped lands and pollute water.
- Allowing online betting for non-residents and foreigners
Non-residents and foreigners will now be allowed to do online betting which we know is very big abroad. I wonder if this will have some impact on eSports in Mauritius. This field is getting quite big too.
- Increasing bandwidth for Rodrigues
The satellite bandwidth to Rodrigues will be increased from 200 Mbps to 500 Mbps. You can always use more bandwidth so good point there.
- Merging of various para-statal bodies such as IBA and ICTA
ICTA and IBA will be merged. There are other institutions merging such as BPML, SPDC, SDLC etc… These mergings will help reduce costs and make access to these organisations easier I suppose. Sometimes you don’t really know who to talk to do achieve what you want so merging organisations that do similar things is a good idea. This will also facilitate introduction of eServices for them at a later point.
- Reduction of duty on hybrid and electric vehicles
Just what it says. More electric vehicles on our roads means less pollution but also additional strain on CEB’s network. I hope this was taken into consideration when electric cars are being favored.
If CEB goes along with the increase in use of renewable (solar) energy, the fuel bill of cars will probably go down quite a lot, along with pollution levels.
- Increase use of electronic documents in Government
Various permits such as the Building and Land Use Permit and certificates issued by the Registrar of Companies will now be done electronically. A good way to save paper and time, especially when you don’t need to go in person to collect documents.
This, along with the introduction of eServices, will help alleviate the long queues that you usually have to go through when applying for things and then collecting the permit.
- Introduction of Metro Express
Not a direct technology measure but this budget introduces the Metro railway system. Although not mentioned, I suppose things like tickets will be purchaseable online so there’s that.
Overall for me, the Budget 2016 is more of a maintenance budget rather than bringing in truly ground-breaking concepts. The points for technology are there and numerous so let’s hope that most of them get implemented and we can really start becoming the “digital society” that Government wants us to become.