National budget: Is there any for software development?

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - October 24, 2020 - 12:00am

After so much drama (which is totally unnecessary), the House of Representatives approved the P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021. As usual, it was passed not without finger pointing as to whose congressional districts went home with the biggest share of the pie.

The 2021 national budget is 9.9% higher than that of last year. It is reportedly about 21.8% of the projected gross domestic product (GDP) next year. However, whether such GDP is achievable next year remains to be seen. What is certain though is that it set aside huge amounts for infrastructure projects. 

As millions of our countrymen lost their jobs or livelihoods due to the ongoing pandemic, it was also understandable that a huge amount should be put on infrastructure projects. That’s a no brainer. There are questions though from some quarters as to why, despite the ongoing pandemic, budget for government hospitals was reduced considerably. What makes the argument tenable was the fact that, as reported, pension payments for the police and military was increased. There must be some reasons for it. However, we should rather let the senators do their job in this respect as they review the lower house version and compares it with what they have.

What is notable though is the fact that our budget is more politically driven as the lawmakers’ finger pointing will attest.  It highlights the fact that our government leaders are like firefighters doing the usual “firefighting approach” in addressing our concerns rather than be more forward-looking.  In the meantime, we can only salivate on the other countries’ prospects in terms of real growth and development as we watch them appropriately doing what is right.

For instance, most of us may not be aware that some countries in the African continent are making strides in information technology. Why? Their respective countries are supporting software developers (both companies and individuals). That is why it never came as a surprise that big tech companies are investing in these supposedly lesser known countries as far as software development is concern.

Notably, last year, Microsoft Corporation concluded its plans to spend more than US$100 million over the next five years to open its first development center (for software developers) in Africa. Through this center (one of the sites will be in Nigeria), it intends to work with local partners, governments, and also hire engineering talents.

The tech giant will be hiring hundreds of full-time developers. It plans to recruit “African engineers to work in areas such as cloud services, which use artificial intelligence and applications for mixed reality – where customers use goggles to project 3-D images onto the real world.”

Moreover, due to the growing telecommunications infrastructure and work in areas like e-commerce and mobile payments in the continent, cloud tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Huawei are reportedly fighting for a share in the African market. Today, Microsoft is working with Nigerian and Kenyan companies in areas like fintech, energy, and agriculture. Moreover, Amazon is also reported to open a data center in Africa next year.

What made the African continent attractive to these tech giants? We may ask. The answer is very obvious.  First, there is an apparent growth in their telecommunications infrastructure.  Secondly, the software developers are getting support from their respective governments.  Consequently, countries like Morocco, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa found their way in GitHub’s list of fastest-growing developer communities.

Unfortunately, in us, though we couldn’t match the size of Africa’s growing market, we couldn’t see and feel the other positives (like telecommunications infrastructure and support for software developers) in the continent.   

We may ask, what is DOST (Department of Science& Technology) doing? Do we have a roadmap? What about the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT)?  Is this not supposed to be the executive department that is responsible for the planning, development and promotion of the country’s information and communications technology agenda in support of national development as provided for under RA10844?

What we can remember though was that DICT spent P300 million for intelligence. No, not to enhance the intelligence of our software developers. It was for intelligence and surveillance work. So odd and incredulous.

Indeed, it is about time that DICT must be true to its mandate. Though so much behind, it must spend every penny in their budget where it should be. Training software developers should be one of these.


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