Is Côte d'Ivoire's digitisation push making a difference?

 

Côte d’Ivoire’s has made significant progress towards digitalisation in both the public and private sectors. The government has recently achieved milestones in its initiatives to digitalise government processes and services. Building on the progress achieved in 2019, the government migrated procedures such as those related to taxation and migration online in early 2020. Meanwhile, banks continue to lead digitalisation in the private sector as online payments become increasingly popular. The country’s digitalisation drive is set to accelerate further as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In order to contain the spread of the virus, the Central Bank of West African States (Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, BCEAO) has taken steps to encourage the use of mobile payments, highlighting the importance of adequate ICT infrastructure.

Public Sector

In an effort to improve the country’s business environment, in September 2017 the government began a project to digitise administrative procedures and offer services online. One of the first steps of the project was the launch of servicepublic.gouv.ci, a website that allows users to complete administrative procedures and request public services. Among the website’s most popular requests are those related to obtaining bank loans and transport identification cards, and submitting documents to the Labour Inspectorate.

In November 2019 Raymonde Goudou Coffie, the minister of government modernisation and civil service innovation, announced that 80 administrative procedures had been digitised so far. These procedures were related to education, agriculture, health and tourism. Overall, the government aims to digitise 300 administrative procedures. In an April 2019 statement Goudou Coffie said that these digitisation efforts have helped the government to collect more accurate and reliable data as well as prevent fraud.

Digital Payments

The General Directorate of Treasury and Public Accounting, which is part of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, has made significant progress in modernising its procedures. Throughout 2019 the Treasury sought to digitise its payments, collections and internal processes. To this end, it launched initiatives that included the establishment of an electronic payments system and an electronic document management system. As a result of these efforts, the Treasury obtained ISO 90001 certification in 2019, which attests to an organisation’s ability to provide services that meet international regulatory standards.

In February 2020 Ivorian company SNEDAI, which produces secure documents in partnership with the government, launched monpasseport.ci, a website that allows citizens to apply for passports online. Similarly, in October 2019 the government established an online payment system developed by the Treasury allowing Ivorians abroad to pay for consular services. According to a statement from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the new platform enhances the efficiency and security of payments and ensures the traceability of funds.

In March 2020 the government launched an online platform named Téléliasse for taxpayers to digitally submit financial statements. According to Moussa Sanogo, the secretary of state for the budget and state portfolio, the submitted financial statements will be available to the BCEAO, the National Institute of Statistics and credit institutions. In addition to aiding the government in its collection of taxes, the platform is expected to streamline credit applications and make the process more secure. This is especially vital given the prevalence of fraud in Côte d’Ivoire. “One of the main problems in Africa, and particularly in Côte d’Ivoire, is the number of cases of identity theft. This problem is tough to tackle once the breach has taken place, so it is more important than ever to invest in tools that can prevent this in the era of digitalisation,” Mohamed Sounkere, director-general of local open source and cloud services company Veone, told OBG.

Additionally, in March 2019 the government launched a separate digital platform known as the Integrated Tax Management System, which enables the authorities to monitor and manage the files of individual taxpayers.

Planning Ahead

In its 2020 Priority Action Plan the Ministry of Government Modernisation and Civil Service Innovation (Ministère de la Modernisation de l’ Administration, de l’Innovation du Service, MMAIS) announced that CFA350m ($601,650) had been earmarked for the digitisation of an additional 48 procedures associated with education, justice, forestry and water.

The plan also referenced projects to raise awareness about the increasing availability of online public services and to evaluate the progress of the government’s digitisation efforts. As of May 2020 there had been no updates as to whether the disruption caused by Covid-19 would affect the implementation of these plans.

In September 2019 the UN Development Programme announced that it was working with the Ivorian government to create a strategic framework that will guide continued efforts to digitise administrative procedures and public services. In addition, to track citizen satisfaction with updated government services, in February 2019 the MMAIS launched an online portal known as Miliê, which allows individuals to submit comments or complaints about public services.

Moving forward, industry stakeholders argue that there is still more that needs to be done to encourage the use of technology, particularly in the public sector. “Digitalisation still needs to gain momentum in the public sector. A new set of laws and an appealing legal framework should encourage this,” Cyrille Koffi, director-general of Société de Gestion et de Concept en Informatique, told OBG. “While sectors such as banking and telecoms already have a high degree of digitalisation, the application of technology remains low in many other sectors, and there is a huge potential to explore.”

Covid-19

Digital technologies, particularly related to mobile money, have also played a crucial role in the government’s measures to provide relief in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and its disruptive effects on economic activity. The government announced that on April 23, 2020 it would begin distributing CFA75,000 ($128.90) per quarter to around 177,000 households identified as particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic. This forms part of the CFA170bn ($292.2m) Covid-19 National Solidarity and Humanitarian Support Fund that was launched earlier that month. The authorities opted to distribute funds using mobile payments in an effort to minimise the need for physical contact.

The BCEAO issued a press release on April 1, 2020 announcing the implementation of temporary measures to restricted fees on certain mobile money transfers to further encourage the use of digital payments. This included free nationwide transfers of electronic money between individuals for amounts less than or equal to CFA5000 ($8.60), free payment of water and electricity bills for amounts less than or equal to CFA50,000 ($86), and the abolition of commissions paid on merchant payments backed by electronic money. The measures came into force on April 3, 2020 and were renewed for a further 30 days on May 3, 2020.

Private Sector

Côte d’Ivoire is leading the adoption of electronic payments in UEMOA. According to the latest available figures published by the BCEAO, in 2018, 37% of electronic money accounts in UEMOA were held in Côte d’Ivoire. Although cash payments are still used for most commercial transactions, the number of mobile money users rose from 13m in 2018 to 18m in 2019, representing a penetration rate of around 67%.

Online services are well established in the Ivorian banking sector. According to a study published in November 2019 by consulting firm FinAfrique, Côte d’Ivoire has one of the highest levels of digitisation in terms of banking services. Of the 26 banks in the country assessed by the study, all allowed for access to banking services through online accounts and 18 had mobile applications. On average, about 55% of the banks surveyed offered mobile apps. Although banks provide customers with online access to services associated with bank accounts, it is not always possible to open bank accounts online. Six of Côte d’Ivoire’s surveyed banks allowed customers to open a bank account online – a figure that matches the UEMOA average of 12%.

However, the insurance sector is still lagging behind in terms of digitisation. While 24 out of 33 insurance companies in Côte d’Ivoire surveyed by FinAfrique maintained websites, seven companies offered customer services online and five had a mobile app. These figures generally matched the average among UEMOA countries – around 87% of the insurance companies in the region maintained a website, 21% had a mobile app and 17% offered online services.

While progress has been made, sector players are keen to stress the importance of further innovation in this area. “Although the public sector has made an effort to digitalise services, more investment is needed in this field,” Alhi Keita, managing director of Electronic Management, told OBG. “The same applies to the private sector, which is increasingly aware of the importance of digitalising business activity and allocating a considerable amount of money to improve digital skills.”

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The Report: Cote d'Ivoire 2020

ICT chapter from The Report: Cote d'Ivoire 2020

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