The gifts you have to order

420'000 pages to go for the schoolsOur 22 HP computer school labs. I had them mentioned in ‘Nicht für diese Welt’ in Outapi Times issue #2. Maintenance is done by Netts in Windhoek – in theory. Last month Victor finished to put our own Win2K3 image on all of the servers in the Omusati Region. The Labs are equipped with a powerful high volume network laser printers from Lexmark (T640). The whole equipment had just been dropped like a bomb without anything which comes close to a service level agreement. Although the price per page is very economical a cartridge is not. Therefore none of the printers had ever printed more than 6000 pages. Schools are not able to afford the cartridge? They in most cases would be. Trouble again is the missing of planning and understanding of a long term investment: although every year the same during examinations schools realize only a few days before a deadline that the have to print out a bunch of pages. The small cartridge for the Lexmark laser printer costs 1600 N$ (220$) the XL cartridge 3800 N$ (530$). Such an amount of money usually cannot be made available on short notice. As a quick fix principles are taking the petty cash and run to the consumer store GAME to buy the cheapest ink jet printer they can get. As a result some schools have now several of those ‘throw-away’ printers – all out of ink.
After realizing how terrible things went wrong we put in a ‘express’ requisition for 22 XL cartridges. Within a week we had the purchase order – record. Unfortunately shipping the items from South Africa took the supplier another another five weeks. Much more important and tricky than ordering cartridges is the task Gabes, ICT Education Officer from Advisory services, has volunteered for: explaining the principles the benefits of saving money in the long run by budgeting for the XL cartridge. Good news is that our Regional Office will budget for one cartridge per school each financial year from now. Therefore also the schools with no money around will be able to print at least 21’000 pages a year.

patience pays off: Linked(in) Outapi

our two servers at the Regional Council: Sun Fire2200 and Ultra40Despite 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).
Lee and Leevi - the two ICT Technicians at the Regional CouncilTo 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.
improvised installation at the Education site: pimped HP workstation running the Untangle firewallTo 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.
Tellabs NTU's at the Regional Council linking to the Government Park in Windhoek and the Education SiteHit 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.

(E-)business the Namibian way

Last weekend a tooth which had been treated in January in Munich started to hurt. It became immediately clear that the only real choice would be Windhoek as the best treatment you can get in the 4-O-Region is a Cuban Doctor. Not a good idea having the former Soviet Union dental care standard in mind. On short notice I got an appointment with an widely recommended dentist in Windhoek tomorrow early morning. Next issue: transport. As I wasn’t able to ‘book’ a reliable government ride (=guaranteed on time at the destination) South and a ten hour ride in my Hilux supported by Ibuprofen had been out of the question (let alone the suicidal mini buses before a public holiday) the plane was the only choice left.
The aviation business, probably one of the most competitive in the world with airlines eager in optimizing their processes to bring down operation costs and satisfy customer needs. How does that fit in a country where the government still owns (the case of Air Namibia, Telecom, NamWater, Nampower) or has a substantial stake (MTC) of most companies in transportation, communication and energy (…and probably owns half of the cars and toilet paper rolls as well)?
Air Namibia: online booking would had only been an option three days before departure. So I sent an email with the inquire followed by an phone call a few minutes latter to the service center in Windhoek. Took the agent only a minute to transfer the email content into the booking system. Payment? The headache started. I asked the agent if I could use my credit card. Not on the phone, I would receive an email which would allow me to do so. I thought about a link to the booking system, fancy. Wishful thinking.

Please advise from which bank you will make payment. If using another bank either than standard bank, payment will only show after 3 working days. It will be advisable to either do a Cash deposit into Standard bank or, coming into our offices and making a payment

I am not with Standard bank and a Cash deposit before a public holiday (and after the 10% ‘Government kick-back-program’ on salaries) starts with a gigantic queue outside the bank. Therefore I ended up driving 150km to the airport in Ondangwa to a) wait for 45 minutes as the agents were swamped by the dispatch of the lunchtime flight and b) hear after it that the online payment system was not working. Hence, no credit card transaction = no ticket. Another 30 minutes and 30km later I had been back in Ongwediva to raid the ATM, take a shower and put down the car at the Fides Bank flat-sharing community (no secure parking at the airport). After it back to the airport with a cab to make the cash payment before 5.p.m otherwise I would have lost the reservation. Needless to say that the fully booked plane had an delay of an hour. Luckily I was picked up by Interteam‘s country coordinator and didn’t had to face another transport challenge (where to get a cab at 9.p.m. at the Eros Airport?). To sum up: I basically spent half a day to get my travel arrangement done. Inefficiency at it’s best and the prove that the country’s economy still has a long way to go.

the kind of gifts you want

David operating our new TASKalfa 300i - the swiss army knife (when do they bring an coffee maker module for it on the market?)For the last months making copies at the regional office had become playing the lottery: the machine indicated everything (paper jam, paper tray not detected, system error XY) but ‘yes-I-am-ready-to-make-you-a-copy’. Two weeks ago the ICT department’s new toy a Kyoceramita TASKalfa 300i arrived. Not just a copy machine – a multi function printer (MFP). I thought it is going to be a tough one to bring people away from the costly fax to a digital sender (scan2email) which is even in Europe not seen in every office yet. Guess I was wrong: a bunch of staff members already use it heavily! We are now trying to fast-track the process of filling the vacant ‘lithographer’ position together with HR: without supervision the device, although a rental with an SLA, will not make it till the end of next month. It brought me out in a cold sweat as I had to witness how a staff member was trying to put a piece of paper with glue remains into the feeder. For sure someone will try that again.

unwanted gifts

No money around in the country? 13x HP DC6200 for our admin sectionOur Director had been informed last week that the head office sent thirteen computers for the administration division to the Region. Here they are – and our favorite brand. Unfortunately the guys at the government park in Windhoek didn’t think it through once more: no space, no power plugs let alone spare UPS units in the region. We now have to find a way to sort these things out which will for sure take a while as spending money is involved. Luckily five months to go before the rainy season starts over again.

fringe benefits die zweite

press 1 for product information, press 2 for Benjamin...You call a number in Germany and end up somewhere in a call center in India or Bulgaria – nothing fancy with a decent Internet access and some pieces of VOIP Open Source software. Now you call a Swiss number and end up at my house.
Although the water pressure is often gone and snakes love the area in Winter Anamulenge has it’s benefits: three different ADSL devices around – and guess who is in charge of them:-). US$ 29.90 for a SIP phone from Taiwan, an old access point as repeater and a three hour configuration battle at night. No more needed. The phone is working pretty well even 50m away from the house.

…howdy winter season

MRLGH briefing, Government Park WindhoekTwo weeks ago I had been in Windhoek to attend a technical briefing session at the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development (gov. slang: MRLGH) due to the ongoing decentralization process. The briefing session was really needed as the progress made so far with the technical integration of the Directorates of Education into the Regional Councils is way behind schedule.Puccini House Windhoek not Antarctica With efforts now taken we hopefully will be linked up with the Regional Council and able to benefit from access to several internal governmental services within the next two weeks. Coming to Windhoek, change of scene, usually a nice thing. Not in winter time. 6°C in the morning the time we went. Two days ago temperatures dropped down to -1°C. Nothing compared to a winter in Europe but bloody cold in Windhoek with virtually no insulation or heaters in the buildings. Warmest place is the car.

Outapi Times, Issue Nr.2, February 2011 – print edition

Diesmal scheint die hiesige staatliche Post über das Ziel hinausgeschossen zu sein: Nach nur zwei Wochen sind die ersten Exemplare der gedruckten Outapi Times Nr.2 in der Schweiz und Deutschland eingetroffen. Rekord-verdächtig. Am Monatsende (nach dem Zahltag der Regierungsangstellen) muss man vermutlich gleich lange am Post-Schalter warten um eine Sendung aufzugeben. Wie alles andere an Infrastruktur ist auch die Post(-Logistik) der rasch wachsenden Einwohnerzahl des Ortes nicht mehr gewachsen. Viel Spass beim Lesen. Die Redaktion freut sich über Kommentare – auch die kritischen.

Outapi Times, Issue Nr.2, February 2011 – print edition

stock taking

unlucky HP displayThe ministerial GRN stamp follows you everywhere, also to the restrooms where it nicely decorates the toilet paper. We wouldn’t let some of the staff take some of those valuable government items home, would we (some of them really do – luckily our cleaners are always on alert). Of course also new IT equipment get its markings during the regular stock taking in the region. Instead of a stamp a soldering iron is usually used. What happens when the stock taking staff members not really know what they are marking is seen in the picture with the red marking – and this is not the only display in the region with such an fancy tag. Measures had been taken to safe the life of all the other displays;-).

Outapi Times, Issue Nr.1, June 2010 – print edition

For this post and the linked PDF a translator or at least a German-English dictionary is highly recommended…

Nein, kein grober Schnitzer der Redaktion: Die Juni Ausgabe (=Erstausgabe) der gedruckten OutapiTimes hat es anscheinend gerade noch so dieses Jahr zu den ‘Abonnenten’ nach Europa geschafft. Nicht nur der Regierungsapparat arbeitet oftmals im Schneckentempo – auch in der Privatwirtschaft geht es ab und zu sehr gemächlich zu. Bis der gedruckte Rundbrief sich aus Windhoek auf den Weg Richtung Outapi gemacht hatte, gingen fast zwei Monate ins Land. Hier im Norden einen professionellen Printshop zu finden, der in der Lage ist acht Seiten doppelseitig zu bedrucken und zu heften, ist aussichtslos. Viel Spass beim Lesen!

Outapi Times, Issue Nr.1, June 2010 – print edition