Thursday, May 17, 2012

Governance through ICT: Journey towards e Governance in Bangladesh

By Rownak Tahmina, Divisional Engineer, BTCL.
With ease of connectivity, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is diffusing every aspect of our life. Integration of ICT in all spheres reshapes our political, social, and economical environment. In this process, ICT as a tool for Governance lead the concept of e Governance. In the present global scenario Governance incorporates ICT to ensure transparent, efficient, prompt, and equitable service delivery up to grass root level. ICT has proven to be the corner stone for Good Governance by bridging digital divide, empowering citizens, creating business opportunities, and alleviating poverty and corruption. Nowadays people increasingly demand more accountability and transparency from governments, more power both at the national and local level, more independence to express their demands, and more attention to citizen’s voice. ICT opens up new opportunities for citizen awareness and civic participation. It has entered in every sphere including governance and policy-making. The use of ICT is likely to revitalize political relations by allowing direct citizen participation in government, avoiding mediations and thus optimizing the representative process and expanding participative democracy. Bangladesh is considerably new in e Governance and needs vast reforms to apply this concept in various aspects. There are huge scopes in infrastructure development, capacity building, and adaptation of e Governance in every sector of the state.

Concept of e Governance and e Government
Basically, e-Governance is generally understood as the use of ICT at all levels of the Government in order to provide services to the citizens, interaction with business enterprises and communication and exchange of information between different agencies of the Government in a speedy, convenient, efficient, and transparent manner. According to the World Bank, “E-Government refers to the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.”
E Governance comprises four major delivery models: Government-to-Citizens (G2C), Government-to-Business (G2B), Government–to-Employees (G2E), and Government–to-Governments /agencies (G2G). This digital interaction consists of governance, ICT, business process re-engineering (BPR), and e-citizen at all levels of government (city, state/province, national, and international).

Generally G2G is referred to as e government. Therefore e Government may be perceived as a sub component of e Governance. However, in some literature the terms e Government and e Governance are used inter changeably. E Government primarily involves automation of day to day government activities.
Deploying ICT in Governance

Good Governance has eight main characteristics: accountable, transparent, responsive, equitable, effective and efficient, participatory, consensus oriented, and follows the rule of law. ICT enriched Governance ensures all these approaches. ICT enables the government to harness its services to the mass people including business groups, urban citizens, and marginalized community living in the rural areas. E governance not only offers access to different government activities but also provides interaction of citizens to the government, civil society, political representative, and essentially the media. This makes the government participatory, equitable and inclusive.  The digitization of various government services- land registration, filing Tax return, trade licensing- ensures transparency, rule of law and makes the government responsive, accountable, effective and efficient. In the long run it reduces corruption. E health, e learning, e commerce cater the development activities of the government to the rural areas. It ensures efficient decentralization process through digital connectivity among the different government agencies. ICT can play a pivotal role to encompass the rural women facing extreme poverty to the development activities of the state. Government websites with provision for citizen blog enables the government to receive feedback from the stakeholders and pressure group which can be incorporated in policy formulation. ICT in Governance thus promotes democratization and enhances socio-economic development. E Governance offers a new way forward with improved government process, connects citizens, and builds interaction with and within a civil society.
E Governance: Bangladesh is stepping forward
The vision of the government to achieve ‘Digital Bangladesh’ is enhancing the need for digitization of the entire government framework. Bangladesh, although in the initial phase, is moving forward towards e Governance. E Government web portal has been developed to provide more convenient access to various government services and information through one window. Government has approved National ICT policy 2009, a revised version of National ICT policy 2002; e-Governance cell is established at the Prime Minister’s Office in 2006. The Access to Information (A2I) Program was initiated to support the cell. The process of deploying e Governance has been started in the form of various projects adopted by different ministries. Some major digitization activities are highlighted bellow:
Ministry of Post and Telecommunication: Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Ltd. - the state owned Telecom operator under MOPT- is facilitating the service delivery through online viewing and printing of telephone bills and checking details of International calls by the customers themselves, and making complaints through SMS. Besides, the Website updates all the information necessary for the officials. Teletalk, the only state owned GSM Operator is delivering various services to citizens: i) viewing and rechecking public examination result, e.g.  JSC, SSC, HSC etc. ii) payment of utility bills, iii) payment of PSC examination fees, iv) broadcasting messages about various government activities.
Ministry of Public Affairs: All government orders and information are posted to the Ministry website, serving G2E.
Ministry of Finance: has customized software for budget planning, sensitivity analysis, impact analysis, financial projections and various reports.
National Board of Revenue: Much of the activities of NBR have been computerized. NBR is digitizing the revenue budget procedure. Chittagong Customs House came under automation process by connecting other stake holders and associated agencies, for instance, shipping agents, C&F agents, customs intelligence, Chittagong port authority, bond commission, CEPZ/KEPZ, BGMEA, BKMEA, NBR, Sonali bank etc.
Ministry of Science and ICT: Ministry of Science and Information & Communication Technology has prepared a project naming "Electronic Governance in Bangladesh: Development of Government Administration Information System" for establishing e-Governance system in 38 Ministries. Its main focus is on G2G Delivery model by interconnecting the ministries, creating a pool of ICT professionals, and updating and computerization of payroll, inventory etc.
Ministry of Communication: Provides online searchable database of contractors, tenders. They have also created a Project Monitoring System for tracking progress of projects. The Online ticketing system of Bangladesh Railway is also advancement towards e Governance.
Bangladesh Planning Commission: Created software for interface between development and revenue budget. The IT system at Bangladesh Planning Commission has various features, like, File sharing facilities, Video Conferencing, Electronic Notice Board, Digital Library containing policies searchable format, minutes of meetings, other useful documents, ADP database facilities, Software for tracking movement of files.
Support to ICT Task Force (SICT) project: This project, primarily for introducing e-Governance, is being implemented by the Planning Commission under the Ministry of Planning. Initially six Divisional headquarters, PM Office and some key Ministries e.g. Health, Home Affairs, Land, Information, Labor, Expatriate Welfare, Foreign Affairs and Planning came under basic electronic services: e-mail, File Tracking, Document Sharing, Internet access. The purpose of this project is to establish a highly efficient, reliable and fully secured communication network. The target area of the pilot projects under this project are video-conferencing, e-police, digital divisional town, web portal, building e government initiatives, building e government platform, research and development in IT sector.
Root Key Generation: Recently the initial phase of Digital signature, Root key generation was completed in Bangladesh Computer Council Building. As a result now the users can enjoy benefit of digital signature and security for government services will be ensured.
Infrastructure scenario for effective e Governance:
Before effective implementation of e Governance Bangladesh must have goal oriented infrastructure. With the aggressive approach of the government for digitization, rapid development activities have taken place in the recent years, both in public and private sectors. The ICT market is booming all over the world; Bangladesh is not lagging behind. The ICT wave has touched the mass people, increasing the internet user up to 31.14 million at the end of February 2012. For e Governance to be fruitful the state must have sufficient provision for inter-connectivity. At present, BTCL has IP backbone network in 32 districts out of 64.The ongoing Telecom Network Development project financed by JICA is working to cover all the districts phase by phase. BTCL’s optical fiber network in District towns including the capital offers connectivity to the Government offices, Business agencies, and educational institutes. All the DC offices are now connected through BTCL Fiber optic network. The IP backbone will be extended to Upazilla level to incorporate the UNO offices. Another project is ongoing to connect the 108 union parishad to the respective Upazilla. Union parishad will enjoy IP based service from the IP pop residing in the nearest district. Successful implementation of these projects will ensure connectivity of all level of government agencies. It will serve G2G Model. But for G2C or G2B, access network through mobile or WiMax must be enriched up to the door step of the citizen. In the private sector, Mobile penetration rate grew enormously with 89.457 million subscribers at the end of March 2012. Inauguration of WiMAX technology increased internet users, though concentrated in the urban area. Out of 31.14 million, 29.61 million is served by the mobile internet, ISP and PSTN Internet user is 1.21 million and WiMAX serves 0.32 million. This figure will be increased by launching of 3G. So in technical point of view Bangladesh is moving forward. If we compare the E readiness Index in South Asia we find Bangladesh in a medium position.
E- Readiness Index:
2008 Index
2010 Index
2008 Index

Challenges and Scopes for Development:
  • In the government level BTCL has nationwide fiber optic network to provide high speed broadband connectivity to interconnect the Government and business agencies. But as far as connecting the citizen is concerned there remains huge scope for development. Along with traditional desktop/Laptop and mobile, smart card can be introduced for service delivery. Smart card is a tamper-resistant security device that offers functions for secure information storage and information processing based on VLSI chip technology. It is distinguished from the magnetic stripe card (typical credit card) by the incorporation of VLSI chip with embedded Operating system. Smart card reader can be coupled to computers for data transaction. The cryptographic algorithm in the special smart card reader operating system is capable of bio-metrics verification. So it can be used for driving license and other social security schemes of the government- health care, allowance for women and elderly people. The information will be transferred from health workers smart card to beneficiary card after each service delivery. It thus ensures the proper service to the appropriate recipient, provides ease of monitoring and controls corruption. BRTC already has a project for issuing driving license by smart card with biography of drivers. It will prevent issuing fake license. Government can deploy one smart card for multiple social schemes. Smart cards do not require dedicated connectivity to internet and power. So unlike typical web delivery it provides services to larger beneficiaries with less use of resources.

  • A large portion of the population is deprived of proper education. Moreover, English language inefficiency is also a big concern in the citizen part to receive the services through ICT. Special training can create a pool of local IT workforce who will provide services to the grass root community.
  • Power crisis is another obstacle in this field. Use of smart cards and solar kiosk may reduce the power problem in the remote areas.
  • Another severe problem in the government level is it lacks ICT expertise in the public work force. In addition, traditional bureaucratic system often resists the application of ICT in some sectors with a fear to loose security and privacy. Capacity building in public sector is a key requisite in this regard. The bureaucracy must be efficient enough to facilitate e Governance services.
  • Effective application of e Governance requires rigorous effort on software engineering, program design for user friendly service delivery, strong security against cyber attack and/or hacking and above all highly skilled IT workforce. Bangladesh has considerable number of IT graduates but they must be equipped with appropriate training to meet the enormous need.
E Governance experience in South Asia
  • In south Asia India achieved substantial advancement towards e Governance. Some notable progress are digital money order, instant access to right to information, quick disposal of online grievance, citizen friendly G2C service, disseminating pricing information to farmers, software streamline bank operations, web enabling Rajsthan land records, one window access to government services, and even common platform for Zoo management. The project ‘e-dharti’ for mutation, sale permission, gift permission, mortgage permission now includes court case monitoring and land allotment that yield quicker delivery of land records. It is claimed that food grain management is streamlined and the rural water supply coverage has MIS monitors. India is planning to introduce solar cyber kiosk in the remote villages using latest n-computing technology on WiMAX platform. M-Governance or mobile governance is also in active consideration of Indian policy makers. It is extension of the concept of governance to deliver the information and/or services to the doorsteps of the citizen in a personalized way using mobile devices. It essentially requires 3G and in some cases 4G. India has recently launched 4G technology starting from Kolkata. India’s large pool of IT experts has contributed to this development.
  • Pakistan is also actively considering e governance and adopted various projects: e services to food, agriculture and livestock sectors, online Hajj application, e-enabling of Majilis-e- Shura (National assembly of Pakistan), online recruitment system for federal public service commission, Hospital management Information for PMS etc. But all are under implementation stage.
  • With a vision of ‘eSrilanka’ government has taken various projects, like, Srilanka Population Registry project, the ePensions project and the Samurdhi Services project. The gateway for electronic information and electronic interactions is conceptualized as ‘Lanka Gate’. It includes comprehensive collection of infrastructural mechanism for easy plug-in to e services and provides wide range of citizen centric services with more accessibility. It has provision for diversified e services by public and private sectors as well as community groups.
Lanka Gate Architecture
  • Bangladesh is still in the initial phase of e Governance. Integration of all the government websites with stakeholders and citizen is yet to be done. Bangladesh is still waiting for 3G technology that is essential for e Governance.
In the present changing scenario governance has wider significance and it is merged with application of ICT to yield an equitable development of the society. For a developing country like, Bangladesh, effective implementation of e Governance is not always easy for various constraints. It lacks infrastructural setup, expertise in ICT workforce, and economic resources. The present global arena caters for civil society, business groups and government to facilitate development activities. Government has to play multidimensional role and hence e governance requires participation of all these agencies. Private sector should be involved to extend e Governance activities along with state owned telecom operators. Business oriented private telecom operators concentrate in the capital or large cities leaving behind the rural community. They can work in ‘connecting the citizen’ part through mobile devices with cheaper access to technology. The government policy formulation should be prompt, inclusive, and relevant to the present and future need. In parallel, the government should focus on capacity building in public workforce. E Governance can essentially meet the goal of ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by digitization of the entire government framework and delivering e services to all level of the citizenry ensuring a corruption free equitable society.

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