by Steve Tametong, Ph.D and Pierre Yvan Belinga Meka (Download pdf version here)
Digitalization and Performance of Public Administrations in Cameroon
The limitation of physical interactions with the advent of COVID-19 in Cameroon from March 2020 has reinforced the project to dematerialize administrative procedures underway in public administrations. In addition, the National Development Strategy (SND30) (1) adopted in 2020 as a new benchmark for public action gives pride to the digitalization of administrations in achieving development objectives. Already in 2016, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MINPOSTEL) set out to set up the “Cameroon Digital 2020” strategic plan (2).
This strategy targeted “actions and priorities with a strong impact on the digital development of the territory, the intensification of the use of ICT services (…).” In this context, Cameroonian society is gradually being reconfigured by digital technology thanks to public policies for the modernization of institutions. However, digitization occurs in an environment where the public administration is plagued by the logic of corruption, poor traceability of user documents, and slowness in the processing of files (3).
Digitization, therefore, appears as a social and technical process consisting in applying digital technologies to public administration. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), digitization refers to the use of information and communication techniques, and in particular, the internet, with the aim of improving the management of public affairs (4). Digital technology is, therefore, a decisive instrument for adapting administrations to new expectations. Due to its relevance, the prospect of digitization makes it possible to foresee effects on the performance of public administrations. Performance refers to the optimization of services provided to citizens with the aim of satisfying the general interest. This performance can be measured using indicators (5) that are impact, effectiveness, efficiency, efficiency, and user satisfaction.
This note aims to analyze the degree of appropriation of digitalization by public administrations in Cameroon. Through case studies, it demonstrates how digitalization contributes to the performance of public administrative services in Cameroon, notwithstanding the challenges inherent in its implementation.
I. The Degree of Appropriation of Digitization in Public Administrations
The liberalization of the telecommunications sector in 1998 marks a real desire to open up to the prospects offered by digital technology in the management of public affairs. It consecrates the shift towards the implementation of an “e-administration.” Saint-Amant GILLES (6) systematized four phases of the evolution of e-administration:
- The Information Phase: This consists of reducing the distance between the administration and the citizen. This involves the creation of websites, official pages, and accounts of public administrations on social networks.
- The Interaction Phase: It is linked to the progressive use of interactive technologies in communication mode between the administration and the users.
- The Transaction Phase: It is characterized by the establishment of platforms for the dematerialization of procedures.
- The Integration Phase: It refers to a radical transformation of the dematerialized administration responding to the expectations of users with efficiency.
In Cameroon, the shift of public administrations towards e-administration remains essentially limited to the information phase. To realize this, it suffices to indicate a few administrations which have a functional website: the Presidency of the Republic (7); the Prime Minister’s office (8); the Ministry of Finance (9); the Ministry of Justice (10); the Ministry of Higher Education (11).
Some administrations have moved toward the interaction and transaction phases in order to increase speed in the processing of files. This is the case with the Ministry of Public Procurement, which has digitized the public procurement process through the establishment of the “Cameroon On Line E-procurement System” (COLEPS) platform (12). This process of dematerialization is a factor in increasing the performance of certain public administrations.
II. Digitization as a Performance Factor for Public Administrations: Some Illustrations
Three public administrations will be selected to illustrate the concrete impact of digitalization on the optimization of the performance of public services. These are the tax administration, the General Delegation for National Security, and the Ministry of Public Service and Administrative Reform (MINFOPRA).
With regard to tax administration, the digitization of statistical and tax declarations and the direct payment of taxes by way of mobile money, among other things (13), allow citizens to save time and avoid informal transactions, which open gateways to corruption. In addition, this administration has been committed since October 2021 to digitizing street addresses in order to facilitate the location of taxpayers (14). This digitization of tax collection procedures has enabled the tax administration to optimize its performance in securing revenue and broadening the tax base.
Since July 1, 2021, the General Delegation for National Security (DGSN), in charge of the police, has digitized the passport production process (15). Since then, the filing of the required documents and the payment of the fees relating to obtaining passports have been done online. This innovation has made it possible to speed up the processing of files and drastically reduce the waiting time for obtaining a passport. This is now less than 48 hours, that is to say, two days exactly.
The digitization of policing by the police is also a relevant example of improving public services. Indeed, the coverage of the national territory by 3,500 cameras contributes to strengthening citizens’ confidence in the State insofar as many cases of attacks are intercepted thanks to the video surveillance system (16).
With respect to the Ministry of Civil Service and Administrative Reform, this administration has digitized the procedure for monitoring files with the commissioning of the “You and Us ” platform (17) in order to facilitate interaction with users. The same applies to the management of administrative notes and correspondence or even the procedure for recruitment by competition to the public service through the establishment of the platform https://concoursonline.minfopra.gov.cm/. All this architecture limits the movement of users and reinforces the sharing of useful information.
Clearly, the illustration of the three administrations taken as a sample of analysis makes it possible to understand that digitalization contributes to the improvement of public service and the performance of administrations. However, it still faces many challenges in Cameroon.
III. The Challenges of Digitalization for a Better Performance of Public Administrations
The digitalization dynamic is encountering challenges that hamper the performance of public administrations. Beyond the resistance to this reform of public administrations by some public officials (18), the structural challenges deserve particular attention. Access to electricity in rural areas is one of the major challenges of digitalization insofar as only 27% of households have access to electrical energy in these areas (19).
Moreover, the weak equipment of public administrations in advanced digital technologies and the limited financing of the digital transition are major challenges to overcome. The same applies to the security of dematerialization systems against the risks of cybercrime. Another challenge is related to the transition from the information phase to a phase of interaction and transaction by all public administrations. One of the equally important challenges is that of training a qualified human resource capable of implementing the digital transition correctly.
In order to accelerate this dynamic and strengthen the performance of public administrations, it is wise to advocate for the following:
- The creation by MINFOPRA and MINPOSTEL of certification on the digitization of administrations. It can be part of the ongoing training of public officials and be a condition for advancement in public service.
- The establishment by each administration of a service specializing in tele-procedures in order to streamline transactions between the administration and citizens.
- The creation within MINPOSTEL of a national commission for the monitoring and evaluation of the process of digitization of public administrations.