President Paul Kagame was last week interviewed by CNBC Africa on issues touching on African integration, fighting corruption, China’s investment in Africa, problem of protectionism and migration.
President’s response to the last question was the most illuminating to me as it did not only reveal his inner belief about what the role of government should be and how it ought to interact with citizens, but also offers us an opportunity to discuss what the actual role of government is.
The last question the journalist asked is that suppose President Kagame wasn’t the president: “What would you be saying to your president of Rwanda today?”
The president responded: “I would be saying to my president that… Get the government out of the way of people trying to thrive or do things that they wish to do.”
He explained: “I would ask him/her to make sure government doesn’t stand in the way of people to realise their potential.”
This is a conservative view of government, philosophically. Unlike liberals, conservatives believe in the limited role of government in human affairs.
In terms of policies, conservatives prefer government to limit its role to providing services like security; justice, law and order, assure individual liberty, including property rights and engage in nonprofit ventures like building bridges while letting the invisible hand of the market to regulate the distribution of wealth.
In practice, this means limited regulation of businesses and limited bureaucracy. Beyond his observation, however, the president should also be judged on his record in government since he has been president for 18 years now.
Looking at his record, we could say that while Rwanda isn’t socially the least regulated in the region (e.g. only state marriage is recognised), commendable efforts have been put in place to ease the cost doing business.
Due to that, it’s easier to register and start a business in Rwanda than in any other country in the region because the president has limited bureaucracy by creating boards that brought together different institutions that formally operated independently.
Despite such efforts, however, recurrent expenditure is still higher than development expenditure and stands at more than 50 per cent in 2018-2019 budget.
Reducing recurrent budget is critical to development and this can be done by eliminating unnecessary expenditures.
For example, there are six institutions of government that deal with media policy and government communication! Why?
The Ministry of Local Government is in charge of the media; its policy is overseen by Rwanda Governance Board, there is the Office of Government Spokesperson, Media High Council, and Rura that is charged with regulating electronic media (beside RMC!), there is a Communications Department at the Office of the President. Are all these needed?
Stated thus, as a citizen, I take the president’s cue and request government to reduce involvement in bank-client relations especially where accessing loans is concerned!
In order to get a bank loan today, one does not only provide collateral acceptable to the bank, but also verified and endorsed by Rwanda Development Board! Plus, a government notary has to sign on the contract granting the loan for it to be released!
As a bank manager in Kigali told me: “It’s not necessary for a government notary to sign this agreement. It’s only because RDB requires it. It would be better for us to deal with the client without government intervention”
This is in addition to chasing other documents from government such as a document indicating one’s marital status, etc. All this negatively affects business as they increase the cost of the loan and time spent chasing paper!
To some, this also discourages loan seekers since, as a young business executive told me, the process “scares away people and makes one feel like a defaulter even before getting the loan”!
And in the age of technology, and with the country’s vision of seeking to be a digital economy/hub, government doesn’t even need to stay away but creating a digitally centralised data sharing ecosystem where banks and other institutions can access required information in possession of government without requiring extra pay or physical appearance or movement of citizens.
This is highly possible since most of the information that banks require clients to get from government is available online; all that’s required is to digitally “create,” as a bank official suggested to me, “something similar to the Credit Reference Bureau.”
In the language of innovation then, government should create an automated e-centralised system that every institution and individual with a code can access.
That will not only ease cost of loans and doing business but, as the Estonian case illustrate, will help the government save money to invest in development projects.