Zanzibar digital transformation enhances service delivery

ZANZIBAR: ZANZIBAR is undergoing a digital transformation that is dramatically improving the government’s planning and budgeting processes, transparency and service delivery to the citizens. In a quick analysis, the development is as a result of the introduction of the government financial systems, which among others have helped to fast-track execution of various roles and services’ deliveries.

In particular, Zanzibar Planning, Budgeting and Reporting System (ZanPBRS) system which is customised from Planning, Budgeting and Reporting (PlanRep) system adopted from the Tanzania Mainland was implemented in the Isles through close collaboration between the Zanzibar government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Public Sector Systems Strengthening (PS3+) Activity.

Here, ZanPBRS was later integrated with the government’s expenditure management system, MUSE to come up with the Planning, budgeting and Expenditure System which is abbreviated in Swahili (BAMAS meaning Bajeti na Matumizi).

As a result, after plans are created and approved in ZanPBRS, they are transferred to MUSE to enable expenditure for accounting purposes and funding to appear in ZanPBRS for tracking and reporting purposes.

The USAID PS3+ supports the government of Zanzibar in institutionalising public systems—specifically through the digitisation of information systems—that are responsive to citizen’s needs for quality services at the local level, with a focus on underserved populations.

The USAID PS3+ which is a five-year project funded by the US government and implemented through the USAID with support from the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR)aims to strengthen the government’s systems at both national and local levels, particularly to improve the access, use and quality of service deliveries across agriculture, education, health and other sectors, with a major focus on support for underserved population.

Before the systems were introduced in isles, Ministries, Departments, Agencies (MDAs) and Local Government Authorities (LGAs) used manual and non-responsive systems like Excel to plan, budget, and track expenditures, where users faced technical issues without prompt resolution, system communicates inadequately, or lacks customisation.

This resulted in numerous errors and inconsistent data, which required extensive cross-checking due to the absence of automatic linkages and reduced efficiency leading to substantial costs. Manual systems also left limited opportunities for authorities to detect funding misuse.

In addition to providing technical assistance in the form of coding, system installation, and server configuration, PS3+ trained more than 230 Zanzibar government staff to build their capacity to use, manage and institutionalise ZanPBRS. BAMAS (ZanPBRS and MUSE) system is revolutionising the way government employees do business, enhancing responsiveness and effectiveness in the delivery of public services.

The increased transparency provided by BAMAS ensures that “the budget the government allocates go where they are supposed to and improve service delivery to the citizens in our communities,” according to Dr Juma Malik Akil, Zanzibar’s Finance and Planning Ministry Permanent Secretary.

Commenting, eGAZ Director Said Seif Said noted that before the introduction of PlanRep from the mainland and customised as ZanPBRS in Zanzibar, the budget element system was window-based (Isdor) but, after PlanRep was introduced, it transitioned to an online-based platform (BAMAS).

“This transition has solved the problem of lengthy data allocation, which used to be handled by a single person. As a result, it has reduced the time required for budget allocation. Now, each institution can insert its budget into the system and await final authorisation from the central government,” he pointed out.

He said PlanRep initially started in one ministry and later expanded to include all other ministries and institutions in Zanzibar. “This system was customised to suit the needs of both the central government and other institutions. We appreciate the efforts of USAID PS3+, for expanding the e-development digital information of the government of Zanzibar.” Mr Said further stated that the government has developed a five-year roadmap known as the “Digital Economy and Statistics Map.” We need the skills to effectively utilise digital tools, enhance pacity building through human capital development and training. eGaz is a Zanzibar agency under the revolutionary government of Zanzibar.

It serves as the focal point for all ICT and digital innovations in Zanzibar. Khadija Alhaji Bakari, Budget Officer in the Budget Department, President’s Office Finance and Planning Zanzibar said “before BAMAS, we used the Isdor system, which was windowbased and time-consuming. Budget creation was limited to a single individual, resulting in inefficiencies.”

However, she said with BAMAS, every responsible person, from the budget officer to the accounting personnel, can access and view the budget.

The transition from the previous system to BAMAS has significantly improved transparency. Now, the system can be accessed and viewed at all levels, from the upper management to the lowest division. The window based Isdor system was time-consuming and not supported by local skilled individuals, unlike BAMAS, which benefits from local expertise.

This has enabled capacity building through training, enhancing the system’s support. In contrast to the Isdor system, where clearing previous year’s data was necessary to input new data for the current year, BAMAS allows for the seamless insertion of current data without deleting past records. What used to take three weeks to a month to input in the budget now only requires three days. This substantial timesaving improves service delivery to the community’s citizens.

Moreover, the modification of BAMAS has introduced new features, such as data relocation and improved reporting.

For instance, auditing reports used to suffer from mismatches between actual expenditure data and approved data, which BAMAS now resolves through data reallocation, resulting in accurate reports. Head of Local Government Expenditure System Department Mr Salehe Bakari Hamis said two years ago, the local government decided not to use any system in 2021 after observing the challenges the authority was addressing in the BAMAS system that was introduced in the local government.

The challenges associated with the previous system, which made it difficult to evaluate and monitor the budget, have been successfully overcome by BAMAS. It has greatly assisted the local government in monitoring and evaluating their budgets, he said.

According to Mr Hamis expenditure by the local government was not properly monitored, leading to funds being used for other purposes within the local government, such as paying for unexpected expenses, or any other activities not originally planned in the budget.

Thanks to BAMAS, the local government now has a better understanding of resource utilisation, ensuring that funds are allocated for the intended orders or activities. He added that the system has raised awareness within the government, enabling them to identify the projects, which deserve more budget allocations.

“Previously, the government struggled to prioritise important policies and mainly focused on smaller projects. Now, they actively listen to the citizens, understand their needs, and effectively manage critical community projects.” BAMAS has led to an increase in local government expenditures, making it economically efficient and effective.

The three “E’s” (economically efficient and effective) are now realised through this system. For her part Dr Tamimu Hamad Said at Kiwinge Hospital in Zanzibar said that before the system improvements in the hospital, it took a considerable amount of time for patients to receive medication and treatment.

“We lacked infrastructure and equipment, and the dispensary was quite small. Budget allocation from the government was also inadequate.” “With the introduction of BAMAS, the government was able to allocate sufficient funds to construct a new hospital that can now accommodate more people. The hospital has seen an increase in the number of doctors and staff, as well as the acquisition of equipment that enables timely and accurate patient diagnoses, eliminating the need for them to travel to the city,” she said.

She said all expenditures approved by the government are currently used specifically and directly for their intended purposes. The roll out of ZanPBRS famous known as BAMAS is still ongoing and the Zanzibar government is fully funding and leading the process, a testament to its commitment to institutionalising improved public systems and supporting the island’s digital transformation.

The USAID PS3+ project is continuing to support the government of Tanzania and Zanzibar government to strengthen and institutionalise the system as well other public systems aimed at improving efficiency and service delivery responsiveness.

The successful development of ZanPBRS is among the efficiency gains and service delivery improvements that come from bilateral collaboration and government willingness to embrace and institutionalise improved digital systems.

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