Zim govt neglects its websites, no visible digital policy

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IN the Fourth Industrial Revolution, several institutions are now racing towards automation, internet of things, cloud computing, cognitive computing, and artificial intelligence.


The revolution signifies a paradigm shift characterised by the convergence of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and big data, fundamentally transforming how people work, live, and interact.

However, Zimbabwe is still playing catch-up, with findings by The NewsHawks showing that 75% of government websites — main portals of communication — are perennially down, while others are endlessly undergoing maintenance, which experts say is a hindrance to access to information.

According to section 62 of the national constitution, every person has the right to access information held by anyone, including the state.

However, findings have shown that only six out of 24 ministerial websites are working, with the ministry Finance and Investment Promotion’s website having the most recent updates, while the remainder were last updated before 2021, with others not working at all.

Other websites that are working include that of the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, last updated in 2021, and that of the ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development was last updated in 2019.

Websites of the ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education, Information Communication Technology and Courier Services, Sports Recreation Arts and Culture Tourism are also running, but without new updates.

Even the official portal to the ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services is not working.

This is despite the government investing in communication and maintenance of broadcasting equipment.

In the 2022 budget, the proposed expenditure for maintenance of technical and office equipment was pegged at ZW$14.5 million (US$ 22 445), with indicative estimates for 2024 and 2025 pegged at ZW$17 144 000 (US$26 539) and ZW$20 271 000 (US$31 379) respectively.

The malfunctions contradict with government’s assertion in the 2024 Blue Book, which show’s that traffic on the Information ministry’s website has been gradually increasing under its information and publicity programme.

According to the report, the website’s insights were pegged at 13.9 million in 2022, which increased to 15 million in 2023 and is expected to reach 18 million in 2024.

The government has been mainly using X, with the Blue Book showing that total impressions for 2022 were 49 million, 200 million in 2023 and expected to reach 250 million in 2024.

The Health ministry website, which is crucial for disseminating information on epidemics, has is frequently under maintenance, while the Mines ministry and Local Government ministry websites are out of order.

Findings have also shown that websites to the ministries of Defence, Tourism and Hospitality, Veterans of Liberation Struggle, and Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development are also down, showing a “404 Not Found” error notice.

According to web hosting and AI website building company Hostinger, the “404 Not Found” error means the browser has connected and sent the request to the web server.

“As a result, the browser can’t load the web page, showing a 404 error. Many factors can cause error 404 Not Found, including: Moved or deleted page. Sometimes, the page’s content may have been deleted or moved without fixing the broken link,” Hostinger said on its official website.

“Mistyped URL. The page link is typed incorrectly into the browser’s address bar. In other words, you’re using the wrong URL to access the page.”

In contrast, the websites of other governments in Sadc are functional, giving latest updates.

For instance, the survey has shown that websites of South Africa, Botswana and Malawi are perfectly working.

Media experts says the malfunction of the Zimbabwean government’s main media platforms has a negative impact on access to information.

“In light of the internet age and technological developments and platfomisation of information it is critical for government departments to have a strong presence on digital platforms to ensure that the public has easier access to information,” said Loughty Dube, Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) executive director.

“The majority of people are active on digital platforms and accurate and credible government information should be easily accessible for citizens.

“Govt information should not only be available but should be up to date and current, and it is imperative that governments should invest in technology in order to remain relevant and in constant touch with its citizens.”

Media lawyer Chris Mhike (pictured) said access to information is important for open government and good governance.

“Under our law, everyone is entitled to access any information held by the state or by any governmental institution or agency, with minimal or no hindrances. That right of access to information is closely linked to the constitutional principles of open government and good governance,” Mhike told The NewsHawks.

“Naturally, good governance should entail efficiency, accountability, and transparency in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.”
The present government claims to be more open than the previous (Mugabe-era dispensation), and the weekly post-Cabinet Press briefings are often cited as proof of that claim. Mhike said failure to maintain functional websites dents the principle of transparency.

“While those [cabinet] briefings are certainly a commendable improvement to governmental communication in this country, there can be no doubt that in the modern age of advanced information communication technologies (ICTs), Press conferences are not enough. Websites do provide a vital source of information for citizens and for relevant non-citizens.

“It is therefore safe to conclude that government’s failure to maintain functional websites during the pertinent season violates various relevant provisions of domestic, regional and international law. Urgent action is necessary for the correction of that violation.”

Source: News Hawk