House approves loan to digitise entire country

Government is on course to digitise the entire country, with every individual able to access the internet, the Minister of Information, Communication Technology and National Guidance, Chris Baryomunsi, has said.

This plan will be achieved following Parliament’s approval of a government request to borrow US$150 million from the Export-Import Bank of China aimed at connecting all the districts that are not yet connected to the national internet fiber. 

“Government has been laying fiber for us to access internet and has covered 50 percent of the country. This loan is to enable us to extend internet to the remaining 62 districts,” said Baryomunsi during the plenary sitting chaired by Speaker, Anita Among, on Wednesday, 06 December 2023.

Baryomunsi said that the loan will be focused on connecting government service infrastructures such as schools, health centres, district headquarters, and sub-counties.

Government will also build data banks known as 'clouds' where its entities will store their data, he said.

The State Minister of Finance (General Duties), Henry Musasizi, explained that the loan covers a period of 20 years, at two percent interest.

The Chairperson of the Committee on National Economy, Hon. John Bosco Ikojo, said they supported the loan approval and recommended that the cost of internet be lowered to increase accessibility.

“The committee noted that although there had been relative investment in this sector, access to Internet remains inadequate and highly priced by Government and individual users. The committee was informed that the cost of internet had reduced from US$ 97 per month per mega bite per second in 2016 to US$70 per month in 2018,” Ikojo said.

The effect of the high costs of internet, Ikojo said has been observed in schools that have failed to teach ICT subjects despite the government policy to integrate such subjects in all learning institutions. 

“Some schools have failed to utilise computers due to inadequate internet connectivity effectively. The committee found out that most local governments are not connected to the internet despite government policy to digitise most of the services,” said Ikojo.

The committee also urged government to urgently implement rural electrification programme, saying the loan will not achieve its end if there is no electricity as it is in most rural areas.

Several members supported the loan request.  Hon. Timothy Batuwa (FDC, Jinja South Division West) said the loan allows him to introduce a motion urging government to consider telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is the technology that would enable us to have a doctor in Kampala treating patients in the most rural parts of the country. This would sort out staffing levels. One needs to install equipment even in the smallest health center, which would be read by the doctor in Kampala,” he said.

Hon. Elijah Mushemeza (NRM, Sheema County South) said the loan has the potential to boost economic growth, noting that several businesses are operated online.

Hon. Moses Ogwal (NRM, Dokolo North County), prayed that the government put ‘internet bars’ in every local government at a much lower cost, targeting the youth. 

It was also the desire of the House that the Government does not rationalise NITA-U which they said was well aligned to implement the loan.