Heavy rain without break since yesterday evening. The surroundings of Outapi look already like it was after weeks of constant rain during the ‘main’ flooding seasons eight months ago. Lets hope the forecast is right and it will stop by the end of the week.
One on of the first lessons you’ve to learn when entering the Namibian Government service is about stamp & signatures. No matter what kind of paper you intend to sent within the Government (physically; for the paperless office visit this blog again in a century) don’t forget the right stamp and your signature or the signature of a person who is sitting behind a even bigger desk. If you don’t do so your paper will simply be ignored by most of the recipients. Rumor has it that this could even lead to a misconduct. Due to the lack of our own (and to spice up the outgoing mail) we used to put the stamp of the Director’s office on our documents. Last Friday I found a small present from our senior accountant on my table. At least on the stamp the ICT function is already there where it should be on the official organizational chart in all thirteen Directorates in the near future: a Division on its own.
Despite the availability of Internet access which has become quite ubiquitous in the country email as an communication channel for official (government) business is virtually not seen yet. A society simply needs time (and not just two or three years as some members of the Namibian Parliament wish for) to get used to the media. Besides that there are two issues which will make it a tough one when it comes to Government institutions.
Stamps and signatures: GRN staff simply love it. It doesn’t matter what. Without a fancy stamp and a signature (preferably from the Director) no paper will be sent out let alone read.
Email infrastructure: although the Government is catching up fast (in my book way too fast) most government institutions are still lacking a proper email infrastructure. The few staff members who use email for official communication take their private accounts (Yahoo is still choice #1).
To tackle the first issue our new MFP is the best ally. Convincing staff members that only some documents need to be stamped for legal compliance will take ages: therefore, everything is still printed out. Good news: more and more papers are sent through the Digital Sender. Winning the battle and probably loosing the war.
The second issue will soon be history: since a few weeks our link to the Regional Council, thus to Government Park in Windhoek as well, is running stable as the two main servers at the Regional Council are for quite a while. A milestone: we are now able to access the IFMS (Integrated Financial Management System), Sage Pastel ERP software and other services on the Government network. Not everything is rosy in the garden: as bandwidth is costly we only have a 256kBit/s (two weeks ago only 128!) line to the Regional Council. It barely works for a bunch of clients connecting to the IFMS and ERP server. Squeezing the traffic (Internet, Email, authentication, WSUS, Antivirus definitions etc.) of 30 clients through it – hopeless. Due to that we are running a hybrid (Untangle) solution with all Internet traffic sent through the Telecom ADSL router.
To make proper use of the email server we had to come up with an unorthodox, temporary solution. The only way to access the email of our domain (omusatirc.gov.na) is via IMAP/POP (web mailer not yet working) from the local network. In one of the Southern regions where the Circuit administration is based at the Regional office this might work. Not in Omusati where all Inspectors are scattered around. And exactly between them and the Regional Office the switch to email communication is urgently needed as tons of papers (of course stamped&signed) are driven around and fuel is wasted.
Instead of accounts on the Regional Council server we simply created aliases to Gmail accounts. With Gmail allowing to change the sender address our Circuit Inspectors can now use the impressive backend functionality (including the loss of privacy) of Google Mail with the official address. As soon as the web mailer is working we will transfer the whole accounts via IMAP to the Regional Council server.
I usually don’t give a lot of credits (if any) to the IT projects being implemented within the Namibian Government I’ve seen so far. With the roll out and configuration of the Sun infrastructure in the Regions the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development (MRLGH) did a quite impressive job. Only the lack of communication and involvement of the Region could be blamed (once more). It will be interesting to see where we are heading within the next months having possible solutions of the new infrastructure (e.g. Oracle Secure Global Desktop) in mind. But technical implementation is one thing – getting the user acceptance another.
Hit the brake and say no: I started to work for the Region 18 months ago. Would have taken only half a day and 12 US$ to register a .com domain for the Directorate and set up their own O$ email infrastructure with the same hosting package this blog is running on. I could have earned a lot of credit at the beginning and it for sure would have saved truckloads of fuel. But it would have resulted into another isolated application brought in by a ‘volunteer’ and headaches in the long run: who (except for the president?) has a VISA credit card issued on behalf of the Namibian Government to pay for the hosting? (buying eight bricks for 3 US$ is not possible without calling in the economizing committee and having a government purchase order written!). How would that solution comply to upcoming Government policies (e.g. .com instead gov.na)?
The bottom line is that I was worth to put the Management off several times when it came to the topic email. Took some time but now the Region has a decent solution which is managed and owned by the Namibian Government.