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Sierra Leone uses big data analytics for national economic research

A new, economic data analytics tool released by the Government of Sierra Leone hosts time series data on national inflation, foreign exchange, imports, and exports. The Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation said the Sierra Leone Economic Data Analytics Tool (SLEDAT) ushers in a new age of local research capability driven by the New Direction’s agenda to take Sierra Leone from guesswork policymaking to data-driven decision making.

SLEDAT  (www.edat.dsti.gov.sl) was launched in Freetown today with partners; Ministry of Finance, Statistics Sierra Leone, and the Bank of Sierra Leone. The three institutions provided the datasets that will enable citizens and researchers to use the tool to analyze economic trends. A ten-year economic data report based on the visualizations and analytics garnered from the SLEDAT has also been published to kickstart a national conversation on economic data and research.

The tool was developed as a direct response to citizen demands for answers about the country’s economy. Sierra Leoneans know that foreign exchange rate fluctuations have a direct and real impact on the price of everyday goods. Decision-makers know this too. However, this is the first time that researchers, government leaders, and citizens will be able to access, probe, and analyze economic data across the government’s leading data institutions. For now, SLEDAT shows the relationship between the Consumer Price Index (CPI), Import and Export Values, and Foreign Exchange Rate for foreign currencies against the official Bank of Sierra Leone “buy”/”sell” rates. While the tool doesn’t explain why prices rise “dip” or rise “peak,” it allows users to get a bird’s eye view of the country’s economic outlook in real-time. 

According to Dr. Yakama Manty Jones, Director of Research and Delivery Division, Ministry of Finance this is just the beginning of a massive national effort for government-led research on issues of national development. 

A cross-section of DSTI partners at today’s launch of SLEDAT at the Minister of Finance in Freetown – 30 January 2020

“It is the collaboration with DSTI, Stats-SL, Bank of Sierra Leone that makes the development of tools such as SLEDAT possible.  Continuous engagement with both data producers and users enables us to create comprehensive, accurate and timely data in user-friendly formats,” said Dr. Yakama Jones.

“Across Government, especially at the Ministry of Finance, research uptake is increasing.  We seek to ensure that data and evidence inform our policy formulation and implementation processes but to do so we must collaborate. We are committed to research although big data analytics is only just emerging in Sierra Leone.”

The ability to access and visualize datasets makes the government more open and transparent. While DSTI is committed to supporting ministries, departments, and agencies with technology design, creating tools that increase citizen engagement, and accountability is part of what drove President Julius Maada Bio’s vision when he established the Directorate of Science in the first instance.

“Data is important but only if and when it is used for making critical decisions that affect people’s lives,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

“When the Government is this transparent with its data and invites citizens and researchers to engage openly, it builds our confidence in supporting national development. Everyone matters and every action counts- that’s why we must share, link and analyze data openly.”

Mohamed James – DSTI Data Scientist

DSTI’s lead data scientist for SLEDAT, Mohamed James, said that users should consider the tool as the first model-version 1.0 with improvements already in the pipeline. The more people use and engage with the tool by asking questions the more information DSTI will have to make it better.

“When our team at DSTI created SL Economic Data Analytics Tool as with all of our applications, we thought about the end-users: policymakers, researchers, and citizens. How can we create a solution that will change and improve the way everyone understands the economy? How can we simplify these datasets for them?” said Mohamed James.

The Ministry of Finance just adopted a digital public financial management system developed by DSTI. These efforts move Sierra Leone closer to realizing a digital economy- a major pillar of the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS)

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Sierra Leone adopts electronic public financial management system – no more lost PETS forms!

Ministry of Finance adopts a new Electronic Expenditure Management System developed by DSTI Sierra Leone

In a memo sent to all government institutions on 6 January, Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Finance announced it had replaced its heavily paper-based public financial management system, Public Expense Tracking Survey (PETS) and the Payment Voucher and Commitment Control Forms with a new Electronic Expenditure Management System (EEMS) developed by technologists at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI). 

The Directorate is developing Sierra Leone’s first national financial data architecture with embedded automated financial tools to be deployed within all MDAs and government-funded institutions. The goal is to consolidate all government spending into one seamless, transparent digital system. The current roll out features implementation in all government ministries. DSTI is working with the Ministry of Finance to roll out EEMS to all departments and agencies by 1st April 2020.

PETS were initially put in place to improve accountability and service delivery; however, the previous paper-based system was inefficient. The EEMS will improve the Ministry of Finance’s drive to strengthen and improve Public Financial Management (PFM). Although initially commissioned to digitize only the PETS system, DSTI’s approach to delivery: ideation, design, prototyping, testing, and evaluation – expanded the scope of the work to include other related components such as Vouchers and Commitments and Control Forms at the Accountant General’s Department. 

The words ”financial management” appear in 2018 and 2017 Auditor General Reports a total of 76 times, underscoring its importance to government operations. In the last eight years, Sierra Leone’s Auditor General Reports said that the government’s PFM was ”weak.” Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) rarely adhered to the recommendations made in the annual audit. Each year they made the same mistakes, further eroding public and donor trust in state institutions.

According to the Audit Service, Sierra Leone will improve its PFM when it makes “value-for-money” investments, and implements “sound systems and processes for internal control, and asset management.”

Furthermore, donor partners place a high premium on PFM for effective and sustainable economic management and public service delivery.

Before the adoption of EEMS, the Ministry of Finance and DSTI trained all ICT and finance personnel from across all of the government on the use of the EEMS tool, all the budget officers, senior budget officers and budget directors, all the Permanent Secretaries, all the Ministers, and the Deputy Ministers.  Additionally, the DSTI team developed a User Manual, Instruction Video, and a Standard Operating Procedure with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Justice.

“The system allows for tracking, which is the one major constraint public servants at MDAs face when making budget requests, ” said Bineta Diop, Business Analyst, DSTI Sierra Leone.

”The EEMS that we have developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance tracks where the PETS forms are at every stage of the approval process. We will know when a budget request has been reviewed and where the form is at any given time in the approval system.” 

The EEMS which automates the generation, submission, and processing of PETS forms, Vouchers and Commitment and Control forms is one part of the National Financial Data Architecture project  at DSTI. 

“In the past, MDAs have made PETS requests that disappeared. This means that critical project funds could not be allocated in time, ” said Anthony Maada Sallieu, Budget Officer, Budget Bureau, Ministry of Finance.  

”With this new electronically generated form, there will be no more lost PETS. It will be easy to keep track of them, and we will save time. This system also creates more accountability.”

The electronic payment and expense systems were developed in partnership with the Ministry of Finance Finance, National Telecommunications Commission, Ministry of Works (including the Sierra Leone Roads Authority), Ministry of Technical and Higher Education, Accountant General’s Department and the Ministry of Information and Communication. 

Blog

Sierra Leone designs online portal to take long wait out of teacher recruitment

A new teacher recruitment portal developed at the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation (DSTI) will make it easier and faster for education administrators to hire teachers, and allocate teachers to classrooms. The Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) upgrades Sierra Leone’s paper-based teacher recruitment processes, including application, approval, and allocation system.

“We created this digital one-stop-shop Teacher Application, Approval, and Allocation Portal (TAAAP) to help streamline how schools receive the teaching staff they need,” said Dr. Moinina David Sengeh, Chief Innovation Officer.

The portal decentralizes the teacher recruitment process giving teachers and administrators access to resources for professional development, grant information, school data, and education best practice research and the latest education policies developed by the government of Sierra Leone. It also limits clerical or eligibility errors in the application process which often can be hard to detect thereby improving efficiency.

“Before, if you wanted to hire teachers, each application needed to be reviewed and signed manually by several people. A physical paper application had to be moved across the country between three different agencies. Five copies of each application were signed by both the Minister and Chair of the Teaching Service Commission. This process can often take more than six months. Many applications have been destroyed and lost in past years, leaving thousands of applicants waiting in vain for decisions that will never come,” said Dr. Sengeh.

With TAAAP, teachers can find and apply for jobs online, they can track the status of their applications, and the school administrators can see where there is a need for more teachers and make the necessary allocations. School administrators can post public job openings for all to apply to, and once reviewed and authorized, the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) can then approve the prospective hires automatically linking the records to other systems of the Ministry and TSC. Each listing is live for at least one month, and schools receive all approved hires for final selection.

The Ministry of Basic and SeniorSecondary Education and the Teaching Service Commission will adopt the portal in the implementation of Sierra Leone’s flagship Free Quality School Education Program over the next five years. Since 2018 the government of Sierra Leone has committed 21% of its annual budget to education spending to bolster human capital development. President Bio launched the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) in November – a promise to leave no citizen behind, and a commitment to use digitization to improve the delivery of goods and services to citizens. The portal ensures that no prospective teacher applicant is left out of the recruitment process.

Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski demos TAAAP at State House – Freetown – December 2019

“We’re trying to increase transparency. Anyone that saw an application will be able to track its movement from one agency to the next. They can see who reviewed the application and who approved it. Applicants will also be able to see where their applications are at all times, whose dashboard it’s on, who has reviewed it already, and they can see when they’re going to get a response,” says Citlali Trigos-Raczkowski.

Trigos-Raczkowski, an MIT graduate with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science, led the creation of the portal with other staff at DSTI and the Teaching Service Commission. Trigos-Raczkowski is a full-stack developer, interested in the intersection of social good and technology. As an intern at the Human Capital Development Incubator at DSTI, she worked with the team to develop the portal making it easier for citizens and decision-makers to track otherwise cumbersome recruitment processes.

“Each application leaves a digital footprint, and the portal shortens the process of teacher recruitment,” says Trigos-Raczkowski.

The portal allows for on-the-go tracking for everyone involved, high-scale authorization and authentication, and mobile-first access.

“There is a lot of back and forth and paperwork that takes up much of our time. Imagine having to sign 5000 applications from 5000 applicants each application with a total of five forms, making it 5000 times five; it’s just too much. But now, with this portal, we can take action to improve recruitment with the click of a button,” said Sorie I. Turay, Secretary, Teaching Service Commission.

Staff at Teaching Service Commission and MBSSE are testing the portal which will be made live to the public in 2020.

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