ICT Africa Headline News

Rwanda Towards a Paperless Society

10 March, 2013
Carlos Mwizerwa, New Times
March 10, 2013

The Ministry of Youth and ICT, and Rwanda Development Board recently launched e-mboni, a document tracking and workflow management system which will be deployed across the entire public sector and which will ultimately reduce public expenditure on paper and associated costs.

What one needs to understand is that 'paperless' does not imply the sudden elimination of paper usage, rather that initially, work processes are essentially electronic, with minimal required use of paper documents and reduced need for human handling of routine tasks and, although this is still far from actually being paperless, it is a move in that direction.

This is just one step in the journey towards what I would call a 'paperless society'. I find myself a strong proponent of paperless transactions. I am not a fan of huge heaps of paper and the sight of the infamous signature folders saddens me, I dislike carrying paper cash and yet somehow I always need it. A paperless, cashless society is still a long way off but we are undoubtedly in the right frame of mind and, whereas it will be some time before we see a completely paperless environment, I do believe that it is coming.

Now back to e-mboni, despite the obvious temptation to promptly follow the trend of going paperless, governmental entities must examine the legal implications carefully. Of paramount importance is the system's ability to retain integrity and authenticity so that originality may be easily verifiable. The system must also guarantee retention of complete, unaltered records as required by law and, in addition, the system's security must safeguard certain information while maintaining accessibility to the public record.

Suffice it to note that Governmental entities manage public records pursuant to statutory requirements and traditionally, documents are stored as paper records and in some cases as microfiche. The development of new technologies allows for more efficient indexing and information recall through electronic record keeping and tracking.

Transitioning to electronic record keeping may require governments to create electronic copies of all existing paper records, a seemingly daunting task for many. What would need to follow hot on the heels of the launch of e-mboni, is an established policy to effectuate a gradual transition, which would begin with the requirement that all new records be produced in electronic form.

Another area that would need to be defined is what is a subject of record and what goes into records, for instance, an email which reflects a matter of public discussion or concern becomes a part of the public record as though it were a work-related discourse conducted through traditional paper correspondence.

Generally, an email's content determines when recordation and retention are appropriate. There would be need though to provide guidance by mapping out certain determinative factors in classifying an email for retention or deletion that will likely overlap with other privacy regulations.

The shift to paperless governments represents a new era, marked by efficiency and cost-cutting but also motivated by sustainability concerns. As more and more governments move in this direction, government attorneys must be mindful of records retention, accessibility and privacy issues so that proper safeguards are put into place to ensure compliance with applicable laws.

One other area which will solidify this move is the view of judiciary, if electronic forms or records are given equal, if not more, weight before the courts of law at all levels of the spectrum, then it is an added boost in the right direction; with strong authentication protocols and secure networks, this should be a cinch after all even paper can be forged or doctored.

Kudos e-mboni but a word of caution, you have your work cut out for you; more challenges exist for a paperless society. People have ingrained habits that can be hard to change. Moving to a paperless environment cannot happen until an entire generation has been raised using the electronic alternatives to paper. As the next generation replaces the previous, it is likely that a paperless society could be achieved.

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