Slow progress on govt open source policy

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SITA chairman Jerry Vilakazi says little has been achieved since the approval of government's free and open source software policy.
SITA chairman Jerry Vilakazi says little has been achieved since the approval of government's free and open source software policy.

More than six years after Cabinet approved a policy for free and open source software (FOSS) in government, little has been achieved.

This was conceded by chairman of the State IT Agency's (SITA's) board, Jerry Vilakazi, at the Government Information Technology Officers (GITO) Council Summit yesterday.

According to Vilakazi, the FOSS policy and strategy, approved in February 2007, aimed to directly and indirectly support and help deliver national development goals and strategies, effectively putting ICT more directly in the service of socio-economic development without technical compromise.

However, the policy, while still effective, has seen limited implementation since its inception.

According to spokesperson for the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA), Tuso Zibula, implementation has taken place in some government departments, such as arts and culture and transport among others, but the DPSA has not been able to establish the extent of implementation across the public service.

"The primary motivation behind the adoption of the FOSS policy is the benefits that government believes access to FOSS will yield for development in SA," says Zibula. "It is hoped that the use of FOSS by government, as well as the broader South African population, will result in, among other things, reduced costs to accessing ICT in poor and low income communities."

Zibula also reiterated cost reduction for government, stimulation of economic growth through cost reduction for business, and development and innovation of ICT that is uniquely suited to the South African environment as motivation for the adoption of the policy.

However, a number of reasons exist for the lack of implementation, says Zibula. These include a lack of skills to service and maintain OSS systems, the costs associated with migration, lack of capacity and skills for the implementation of the policy and lack of co-ordination.

"[Other reasons include] lack of buy-in by departmental end-users, lack of a skills development plan and retention strategy, and misalignment of legislation."

DPSA involvement

A Minimum Interoperability Standard (MIOS) was approved by DPSA in 2007 and has been revised once since then, says Zibula. This minimum standard prescribes the use of open standards by departments in line with the policy.

"However, much as the policy has not been successfully implemented by all, one cannot vouch that new software developed by departments is open standards. Software developed by or through SITA should be based on open standards, as SITA is part of the collective that developed the MIOS."

In September 2007, then public service and administration minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi accepted an invitation to become patron of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA).

FOSSFA has its origin in the ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, held in November 2002. "The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa was acting on the mandate given to it by the Bamako Bureau, established by the African Council of ICT Ministers in the continent's preparation towards the World Summit on the Information Society," explains Zibula. "The vision of FOSSFA is to promote the use of FOSS and the FOSS model in African development."

FOSSFA executives explained at the time of Fraser-Moleketi's appointment as patron of the foundation, that her support could help the organisation gain access to her African counterparts. Fraser-Moleketi resigned as minister in September 2008.

Vilakazi yesterday expressed his hope that the GITO Council Summit will highlight the challenges that are hindering the implementation of the policy so they can be addressed. "This is to ensure that government achieves the benefits that were envisaged by the policy."

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