While the government has been spearheading the promotion of ICT, making more and more public services online, it seems the public has been slow to make use of it. A good example can be found at the Office of the Registrar General, which is part of the Rwanda Development Board, which has been offering free online business registration for some time.
Apart from the fact that it spares business-people the time and money to travel to the Registrar’s offices and queue to submit their documents, it has the added advantage that they are exempt of the registration fee of Frw 15,000. Yet In 2012, only 11.7% of new businesses (1153) were registered on-line, against 8686 applicants who chose to do it physically and pay the fee.
However, that was already a significant improvement against 2011, when out of 9068 registrations, only 473 (5.2%)were done electronically. But Registrar General Louise Kanyonga says she is confident that Rwandans will catch up with the times and em-brace their e-services.
The tar-get at RDB is to achieve at least 50% of all registrations to be made online this year. In order to reach that goal, RDB continues to work with private sector structures to create awareness on the availability and reliability of the e-registration service.
Last month, RDB in collaboration with the Private Sector Federation, conducted a nationwide training of staff at Business Development Centers, owners and operators of private cyber cafes as well as PSF staff in the districts on the online registration of businesses. “The training was successful with an impressive turn-out and we hope that this will be a turning point that will result in more people using the online services,” Kanyonga said.
The objective behind the training is that with skilled and knowledgeable people at BDCs and private internet cafes, it will increase the access of the service. It will also help to tackle another challenge for on-line registration, which is the still low level of computer literacy in the country. It might even create a business opportunity for cyber café owners to either organize computer training or offer assistance in registering a business for a fee. As for prospective business owners, especially those upcountry, they have the advantage that they don’t have to travel to Kigali anymore to incorporate their enterprise, but can do it close to home.
“This will be quite helpful because the services will be closer to the people but also, those who don’t own a computer can still access our online services,” explains senior registration officer Yves Sangano. Meanwhile, RDB is involved in an intensive online registration awareness campaign with spots on radios and TV and messages in newspapers in all the national languages to ensure everybody gets informed.
Also in response to feedback from some members of the public, who complain the on-line registration process is long and complicated, RDB says the office of the registrar general is examining ways of refining and condensing the forms in a bid to further simplify the process.
The plan, according to Kanyonga, is to reduce the registration steps from six to two which would reduce the amount of time required to complete the process. In addition, RDB has introduced two additional desks at the registration center in Kigali where officials do the registration online in the place of the applicant.
“Some people simply want to be served at a desk and even when they could have received the same service elsewhere, these two desks accelerate the process,” Kanyonga explains.
According to the registrar general, the services at the two desks are free and some two months after their introduction, the response from the public is increasingly positive. She explains that in the first week, the desks would process an average of only 3 out of the 50 to 70 daily registrations at all RDB, but there is a steady in-crease. “Now we are registering at least ten per day,” Kanyonga says.
It is part of an overall in-crease in the use of the online system. For instance, between January and April 15, over 500 new companies had been registered through the on-line system. At this rate, it’s clear that more companies will get registered electronically than the 11% of last year. Yet it is a fact that the mentality among most people is that a physical certificate or receipt given by an officer is still trusted more. “Many people want that but the electronic certificate is as good as and even more genuine than the physical one,” Kanyonga notes. After the successful completion of the electronic company registration process online, the applicant will receive a n electronic certificate with an electronic signature but no stamp. However, the Registrar General says the absence of the stamp doesn’t mean the electronic certificate is not valid. Moreover, with the interconnectivity of government agencies, the details of the company ownership would be immediately accessible by all the other relevant agencies.
New Zealand Inspiration
All those efforts to make business registration easier and quicker are part of the government’s drive to make the business environment more attractive to investors. Currently, the best reflection of this is the Doing Business index compiles by the World Bank, which ranks countries according to various aspects of running an enterprise, including starting up a business. Since its creation in 2004, the index has been playing an increasingly important role in swaying big companies to decide to invest in country X or Y. That’s why the index is very important to Rwanda – not just for prestige but because they are a major source of reference for investors. The more investors our reforms attract, the better the lives of Rwandans through direct or in-direct benefits resulting from in-creased economic activity. Ease in registering/starting a business is the first indicator under the WB’s Doing Business criteria. While Rwanda is ranked 8th globally by the WB’s 2013 Doing Business report when it comes to the ease of registering a business, the government’s ambition is to emulate New Zealand, which occupies the top spot. Online registration is key to do so. “When you look at all those countries we aim to emulate, you will see that they know only one method to register a business, which is online,” Kanyonga points out. Other economies are also moving in that direction and improving their business registration process; Guinea Bissau, for instance, managed to move up 63 places in 2013 rankings. Therefore, Rwanda is not only striving to improve its ranking in registering a business, but should also beware of lesser-ranked companies catching up. Making electronic registration the norm is the only way to secure our position.
What customers think
REGISTERING A BUSINESS: Rwanda VS New Zealand
Rwanda’s business registration procedure takes a single day and between one to three days to pick up the certificate of registration. Any payment involved is an option because when done on-line the entire process is free; and when done physically at RDB offices, an applicant pays Frw 15,000.
Technically, businesses in Rwanda are registered in just six hours. However, the World Bank looks at the average time it takes be-tween the submission of the application and the reception of the certificate.
While the office of the registrar general guarantees that the certificate can be picked up six hours after a complete dossier has been present-ed, most entrepreneurs prefer not to wait for it and come back to collect it a few days later; hence the three days reported in the index. “If we can get our people to use the online registration, the process should take six hours or less because the certificate is delivered electronically,” Registrar General Louise Kanyonga explains. As for New Zealand, it takes one procedure to apply for registration with the Companies Office on-line in New Zealand. It costs 10.22 NZD (Frw 5340) for company name reservation plus an additional 155.33 NZD (Frw 80,123) for company incorporation.
Twenty-seven-year old Libert Niyetegeka travelled from Nyanza district in the Southern Province to collect forms and register a grain milling company. However, when he reached RDB offices, he noticed the online service with all its advantages. “Thirty minutes later, I was sorted and I didn’t have to pay any money. It was fast and I got my certificate instantly, I can’t believe it!” he said with amazement. Niyetegeka believes this is what Rwandans need and if people have access to computers and internet, then they don’t need to travel and waste money unnecessarily. “I only urge RDB to upload a registration form written in Kinyarwanda so that those who can’t use English are not discouraged,” he observes.
Pamela I. Dzala and Pelagie Kurudusenge have recently registered their Kuradusenge Agencies Ltd using the e-registration system. Kuradusenge Agencies Ltd will deal in mainly flower business, export trade, courier and logistics, event management and others, and the two women were very pleased with the on-line registration system. “We had the most amazing experience, especially since some of the directors are Kenyans. We were impressed with the service provided by the officials especially the registration assistant who helped us and another lady; we were impressed by the speed of application and the quick approval. In total we spent just three hours between applying online and getting our certificate,” Dzala said.