Technology has the power to constantly improve lives. With the recent rollout of the SmartGov for citizens app, the people of OR Tambo municipality are experiencing this first hand. The app, implemented in partnership with Vodacom, is bringing essential services closer to the citizenry, while closing the gap between the electorate and the elected.
A BETTER WAY TO COMMUNICATE
While picturesque, the rural Eastern Cape presents a unique challenge to government when it comes to service delivery and emergency services response. With communities often far- flung from their nearest municipal of ces, resolving crises and providing essential services to citizens can be difficult at best.
OR Tambo municipality comprises a mix of developed and rural towns, including Port St Johns, Coffee Bay, Mthatha, Flagstaff, Libode, Lusikisiki and Qumbu.
“Previously, issues of water and sanitation were not a priority in rural environments,” says Ayongezwa Lungisa, Spokesperson for the Executive Mayor of OR Tambo.
“If citizens in rural areas wanted to communicate with us, they had to get in a taxi or take their cars to drive to the nearest contact centre.”
So, the municipality of OR Tambo began the search for a simpler, better way to communicate with people in these remote locations.
“We’d looked for simple ways to communicate with the people of OR Tambo, specifically in relation to Water and Sanitation, Disaster and Fire,” says Ayongezwa. “The SmartGov for Citizens App complimented how we wanted to communicate with our people…and in conjunction with Vodacom, which is our partner for such things, we were able to deploy the infrastructure for the app.”
We’d looked for simple ways to communicate with the people of OR Tambo, specifically in relation to Water and Sanitation, Disaster and Fire
A WORKING PARTNERSHIP
The Smartgov for Citizens app was rolled out in partnership and conjunction with Vodacom. Using the infrastructure of one of South Africa’s leading service providers has made rollout of this solution faster and simpler by leveraging Vodacom’s existing infrastructure.
Vodacom was also key in launching the initiative in the community, ploughing resources into marketing and awareness campaigns. Vodacom made use
of billboards, regional radio and social media to generate awareness about the Smartgov for Citizen’s app and its launch in OR Tambo municipality, as citizen buy-in is essential for the success of such tools.
Through Boxfusion’s partnership with Vodacom, and their transversal contract with treasury, it is more accessible for government departments, and municipalities like OR Tambo, to access solutions like the SmartGov for Citizen’s app. Because Vodacom is a reseller of Boxfusion solutions, it removes drawn-out procurement processes, allowing for municipalities to quickly implement and roll-out such solutions to their electorate.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
The municipality officials decided to roll out the SmartGov for Citizens app in April 2017 as a means to increase communication with the electorate, while improving service delivery to rural areas.
“We decided to test the smart solution on issues of Disaster and Fire, and Water and Sanitation, as these are areas we’re mandated to manage as a tier of government,” says Ayongezwa. “And we knew it was a strategic move to launch in April, as our rural districts suffer with veld fires during the dry season from June to August.”
He says that the previous week, a fire had been reported via the USSD function of the app, and within minutes the call centre was able to dispatch fire engines to the affected village. While four homes burnt down, Ayongezwa says it could have been far worse: “I know for a fact that in previous years, fires like this would go on the whole night because people would be looking for a place to buy airtime in order to call the emergency services.”
One of the primary features of the SmartGov for Citizens app is that those in rural areas who might not have immediate access to airtime or shops that sell airtime, can report issues via the USSD function without any cost to themselves.
“The built-in USSD feature also accommodates people in our municipality who might not be tech savvy. Those in the rural areas are making use of the USSD feature to lodge complaints and reports.”
NOT JUST FOR CITIZENS
But it’s not just the citizens who appreciate the features of the app. Contractors and tradesmen can also see when a report or issue has been logged,
and if they are in the area or on call, can respond to citizens without waiting for the call centre to contact them first. “From an institutional perspective, we are able to see how tradesmen are responding and we’re able to measure our response time.”
It also enables municipality officials to alert citizens who are or will be affected by particular outages or problems. “We can use the app to geo-locate the cellphone numbers of people living in specific areas and alert them that they are being affected by water outages if a large pipe bursts, for example.”
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
By implementing the SmartGov for Citizens app, officials have not only made themselves more accessible to their electorate, they have also made their processes more transparent, essentially bringing government services closer to the people. The app allows citizens of the municipality to trace the progress of their report from start to finish, and they are also expected to provide input on whether it was resolved to their satisfaction or not via the platform.
Because the app closes the loop on communications between government and the citizenry, it has great potential to reduce dissatisfaction and dispel perceptions that citizens aren’t heard by the government when alerting their officials to problems or concerns in their towns.
Ayongezwa notes that one of the causes of service delivery protests is a feeling that government is not conversing with people about projects, plans and commitments, but the SmartGov for Citizens app provides the platform for officials to do just that.
“The app also helps enforce accountability, because it’s not just government officials who are able to see when an issue is not being attended to. Someone in the same street as the person who reported the issue can track the progress of how the municipality is resolving the problem. The app is good in terms of governance, transparency and accountability,” says Ayongezwa.
One of the reasons OR Tambo selected Boxfusion’s solution was because the app provides feedback to citizens in a manner they understand, and because it could be tailored to suit the needs of this particular municipality when it comes to service delivery.
“We had an unsustainable way of customer care, but now we’ve taken all those elements and put them through the app, it’s helped us simplify customer care and government processes.”
Ayongezwa says officials, citizens and tradesmen are so satisfied with the app, that the council is reviewing their communications policy to see how the app can play a central role in communications between the electorate and officials in OR Tambo municipality.
“We’ll keep improving and making use of technology to simplify service delivery to the people of OR Tambo” says Ayongezwa.
“Going forward we want people to make use of the app to pay rates and view their statements, it must be there to help people, that’s what we’re working towards, and that’s what we’re modelling,” he concludes.