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Access to Information is key to Digital Bangladesh
Posted:May 3, 2017
 
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Access to information or a2i is one of the most significant terms nowadays in Bangladesh. Access to Information particularly refers to a program initiated by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), with support from UNDP and USAID started in 2007 with the objectives of increasing transparency, improving governance and public services and reducing inefficiencies in their delivery in terms of ‘TCV’ – the time (T), cost (C) and number of visits (V) associated with obtaining government services for underserved communities in Bangladesh. The program is now in its second phase since 2012, tentatively to be ended in 2018. a2i focuses primarily on bringing information and services to citizens’ doorsteps and increasingly within the palms of their hands. It does so by harnessing modern ICTs, local knowledge and global best practices to establish both physical and virtual one-stop access points.
 
In Bangladesh, citizens have to travel long distances, often multiple times, incur high costs and endure considerable delays and hassle to access public services. Meanwhile, the government has to spend substantial amounts in administrative and transaction costs because of archaic, paper-based, manual processes. Moreover, the centralized, hierarchical nature of decision making means that officers at the mid and field levels do not usually get the opportunity to offer innovative ideas to improve services and their delivery systems. They also lack the tools and resources to experiment with potential solutions. a2i strives to ensure that service delivery transformations bring tangible benefits to the common citizen, especially the underserved. Be it by redesigning public services through reduction of citizens’ time, cost and visits (TCV) to access these services, establishing physical and virtual service delivery platforms or by nurturing a cultural of innovation through the development of ‘empathy’ within civil service; a2i’s driving mantra is ‘Services at Doorsteps for All’.
a2i: Achievements & Performance
The a2i program is now underway and has had some achievements since its operations commenced. As per govt. website following grid highlights of a2i program so far:
 
 
8.5 Million students learning from Multimedia Content Developed by 100,000+Teachers
105 Digital Talking Text Books for all Visually Disabled Students
133 Innovations Incubated through Service Innovation Fund
 
101 Million+ Result of Public Exam over SMS
20 Million+ admission Applications Through SMS
$28.15 Million Earnings for Digital Centre Entrepreneurs
237 Million Services Provided to Citizens from Digital Centers
 
Online Registration of 2 Million+ Male & Female for Overseas Jobs
146 Million Births Registered Electronically
4.7 Million Sugarcane purchase orders sent over SMS
Moreover, the government has come up with a good number of successes so far. Some of those are the following:
Accomplishments under a2i
 
1. Service Decentralization:
• Average 6 million e-services (of 106 types) delivered per month to citizens through 5275 Digital Centers. Total 223.19 million services delivered with an average of 4.5 million beneficiaries per month.
• 25,000+ websites connected through the National Web Portal containing information of 43,000+ govt. offices, 2,100,000+ content and generates 90 million+ hits per month. www.bangladesh.gov.bd.
• 400 services of 36 public directorate/organizations added in Sebakunjo (Service Portal) providing all required important information about services rendered by public offices with links. www.serviceportal.gov.bd.
• A Forms Portal (www.forms.gov.bd) developed with more than 1400 forms of 158 offices.
• e-filing system introduced and used at 96 govt. offices including the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
• Digital Mobile Court System (www.ecourt.gov.bd) initiated with 1059 cases settled/disposed under a pilot program running in 4 districts.
 
2. Innovation Culture:
• ‘Service Innovation Fund (SIF)’ introduced to provide financial support up to BDT 2.5 million in innovative efforts. 90 projects in 6 phases funded so far of BDT 175.6 million and 12 projects successfully completed.
• 7,679 officials trained at different courses under Skill Development Program. Total 436 innovative pilot projects underway in different level govt. offices.
 
3. Awareness Raising:
• Facebook accounts in 265+ government departments. Till now 9329 people including 18 policy makers participated in 42 discussions.
• ‘Digital Innovation Fair’ being organized every year at all divisions and districts with the assistance of a2i.
 
4. Financial Inclusion:
• Test Trial of Agent banking underway in 25 Union Digital Centers to bring commercial banking services at citizens’ doorstep.
• Social Safety Net program- a pilot program started to provide allowance to 7,000 elderly and disabled people through Postal Cash Card in Nagpur upazila of Tangail district.
 
 
5. Rural e-Commerce:
• Rural e-Commerce activities started through 5275 Digital Centers for various purchases. 300 Digital Centers involved in rural e-Commerce and goods worth sold BDT 2.4 million.
• ‘ejoyeeta.com’, an e-commerce platform developed for marketing of goods produced by small-scale women entrepreneurs with the assistance of Service Innovation Fund (SIF). 5,000 women entrepreneurs involved with this virtual shop.
 
6. Policy Advocacy:
• Enabling legal and policy framework designed and partnerships established to facilitate responsive and transparent service delivery.
• Supported incorporation of e-service development and promotion into relevant national planning documents.
• Identified and effected necessary policy and legislative changes for e-services.
• 25 new policies, acts, guidelines, regulations developed and adapted including ICT Act (Amendment 2013); Disability Act 2013; National ICT Policy 2015; Proactive Information Disclosure Guidelines 2014; Policy Guidelines for Electronic Financial Inclusion 2013; City Corporation Digital Centre Circular 2014.
 
Prevailing barriers and recommendations:
Besides the above achievements, the citizens of Bangladesh are still lack in enjoying the full benefits of ICT. Some more doings are there to accomplish towards attainment of the goals. The following table identifies the existing barriers in the left column and the corresponding recommendations in the right column:
 
Barrier 1:
The effective use of ICT requires the availability of equipment, supplies of computers and their proper maintenance including other accessories. Most of the rural areas in Bangladesh do not have adequate electricity supply. The development of the ICT infrastructure in a country is dependent on the availability of frequent electricity supply. Implementing ICT process demands other resources like computers, printers, multimedia projectors, scanners etc. – which are not available in all the institutions. In addition, ICT requires up-to-date hardware and software use of which is a key feature in the diffusion of technology but a rare experience in personal & institutional use. High-speed internet connection is another prerequisite for integrating ICT benefits into daily life of individuals and societies. But, frequent internet access level is not very high.
 
Recommendation:
ICT Supported Infrastructure shall be made more easily available and affordable to build an ICT-centric nation. Resources like availability of electricity at a tolerable level, adequate mobile network, ICT tools etc. are also required to be increased so that citizen can better taste the benefits of ICT. The price of ICT tools, hardware and software shall be kept at such level so that mass people can easily afford. The govt. should continue economic & financial incentives & benefits that are enjoyed by ICTs. Besides proper vigilance and follow up process should be built up for appraisal of performance by the ICT entities.
 
Barrier 2:
Effective implementation of tech-based systems involves substantial funding, that is very hard to manage in Bangladesh where many people are living below the international poverty line. ICT-supported hardware, software, internet, audio visual aids and other accessories demand huge funds. Different researches state that efficient and effective use of technology depends on the availability of hardware and software and the equity of access to resources by individuals.
 
Recommendation:
The government needs to allocate adequate budgets for ICT development considering the prevailing situation. Besides and more importantly, proper vigilance and monitoring should be ensured that the funds are not misutilized or drained to other channels. Govt. should make lobbing to international donors and agencies for fund to be used in the development ICT.
 
Barrier 3:
The government of Bangladesh has emphasized the implementation of ICT with “Vision 2021” to improve the quality of the different systems. Effective implementation of ICT is not merely a vision. Rather, it needs a proper plan, policies, execution, integration and monitoring: which is really a major constraint for Bangladesh.
 
Recommendation:
The citizens have to apprehend the underlying perceptions of the vision of “Digital Bangladesh” and in the event of change of existing govt., it is expected that the new govt. shall not intervene or stop the progress of program considering betterment of the country.
 
Barrier 4:
The government came up with the slogan of “Digital Bangladesh”. The prime minister would like to build Bangladesh as a digitalized nation in all sectors. Hence they are also trying to implement information technologies in various sectors as well. Unfortunately if this political government changes after five years due to the democratic election then “Vision 2021” might be changed due to antagonistic attitudes among the political parties of Bangladesh
 
Recommendation:
The registered parties who are involved in power politics are not similar minded in terms of vision and other issues that may affect citizens’ right to get sustained benefits of ICT. The political parties must come into a consensus to consider ICT as a significant sector and none of them will take any resisting steps towards the development of ICT.
 
Barrier 5:
Fifty per cent of the population of Bangladesh are women, who are relatively deprived of access to the advantages of technology. Women are underrepresented in almost every aspect of ICT implementation in Bangladesh. Other key barriers to the use of ICT include language and insufficient education and skills. In Bangladesh, Bangla is the main spoken language, whereas English is the dominant language over the computer (software), internet and ICT supported tools. Currently language seems to be one of the major social barriers to the use of ICT in Bangladesh, where English is not so widely spoken.
 
Recommendation:
Women should rigorously be made involved in ICT process. Though government has initiated some actions, broader steps require to take that will encourage women to participate themselves in ICT related processes. Beside, newer processes should be introduced to use bangla so that illiterate citizens are able to get the benefit of ICT. Citizens are also expected to proactively take part in the process of getting benefits of ICT.
 
Barrier 6:
Bangladesh has been consistently ranked by Transparency International as one of the most venal among the researched countries. Corruption is one of the strong barriers to the implementation of ICT processes. Budget for the newer technology misused & reduced due to corruption in administration.
 
Recommendation:
Social awareness engaging all societies shall be built and increased against corruption. Newer effective legislative procedures should be adopted and proper compliance be ensured.
Barrier 7:
 
In Bangladesh, users have to pay higher price on using internet data unlike developed countries. However, low prices are being charged for voice calls by the telecom companies that are surprising and unexpected at this stage of global era of ICT paradigm.
Recommendation:
 
The existing bandwidth level needs to be enhanced to foster ICT benefit. Tariffs rates may also be revised demanding the current situation so that users get their desires services at a lower price. It is hopeful that Govt. has started taking necessary steps in this regard.
 
Barrier 8:
 
FinTech (Financial Technology) & MediTech {Medical (Information) Technology} describe businesses that aim at providing financial & medical services respectively by making use of software and modern technology. As per record derived from BASIS, a national association for IT and IT enabled service providers, it is found that there are about 800 IT/ITES companies operating their businesses in Bangladesh. But only a few of them belong to FinTech & MediTech industry. Lack of such companies leads to an imbalanced ICT sector.
Recommendation:
 
Finance has got importance to the growth of Individuals and countries whereas medical or healthcare magnitudes to the status of physical condition of individuals. Both are important for sustainable development of individuals and countries. Hence, Govt. should make policies and procedures for FinTech & MediTech service providers and offer incentive schemes to encourage entrepreneurs.
Ratiocination
 
It is already observed and felt that ICTs play a catalytic role in dissemination of information, knowledge transfer, healthcare, capacity building and improved governance. Developing country like Bangladesh can use ICTs to turn the micro mobility of micro finance into macro mobility to become a middle income level country from poor level. Access to data services allows organizations to provide basic information such as protection against dangerous conditions such as avian influenza and other diseases, surgery times and how to obtain vaccinations. Mobile communications provide these capabilities to all sectors of society, whilst fixed services do not.
 
In fine, it is expected that all out synchronized efforts shall have to be taken in participation of all levels so that the benefit of ICT is yielded to individuals pertaining to all class having a positive & sustainable economic impact towards making “Digital Bangladesh”.
 
BDNews24, May 4, 2017
 
 
 
 
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