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Bangladesh: Citizen-Centric E-Government
Source: thedailystar.net
Source Date: Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Thematic Website, Knowledge Management in Government, Citizen Engagement
Country: Bangladesh
Created: Nov 11, 2010

The State of Governance in Bangladesh Report is an annual report of the Institute of Governance Studies (IGS) of Brac University. This report analyses governance in the country in sectors of topical interest. In this year's report energy, food security, labour migration, and e-government have been covered. The chapter on e-government looks at initiatives by the government to leverage ICT under the banner of Digital Bangladesh.

In its election manifesto, the incumbent Awami League government declared a desire to make Bangladesh digital by 2021. The Digital Bangladesh (DB) vision is being developed by the UNDP funded Access to Information (A2I) Programme and is based in the Prime Minister's Office. The two key pillars of the DB vision -- connecting citizens and reaching pro-poor services to the citizens' doorstep -- if successfully implemented will exemplify innovative and pluralist service delivery models that cater to the poor.

The context of ICT in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has not kept up with ICT developments worldwide, and the overall ICT infrastructure is woefully inadequate to support DB goals.

The World Economic Forum-INSEAD prepared "Global Information Technology Report (GITR) 2009-2010" reviewed Bangladesh's placement on three key ICT indicators: (a) environment (infrastructure, market and political), (b) readiness and (c) usage. Bangladesh ranks 118 out of 133 countries. The country's overall low ranking highlights the urgent need for improvements in areas such as (i) the regulatory framework, (ii) developing human resource capacity, (iii) providing greater access and increasing usage of ICT by citizens and (iv) investing in ICT infrastructure.

What is Digital Bangladesh (DB)?

During the 2008 elections, the Awami League's election manifesto "Vision 2021 Bangladesh: A New Horizon" introduced the concept of "Digital Bangladesh." The concept was also reiterated in the government's updated manifesto (July 2009). The DB agenda is composed of four pillars that outline key areas in which ICT can be utilised immediately:

-Human resource development

-Connecting citizens

-Digital government

-Private sector (ICT in business)

The DB agenda is a long term-vision, which views ICT as an enabler for socio-economic and human development by 2021.

Digital Bangladesh and

"e-government"

Over the years, a number of definitions have conceptualised e-government. However, this chapter bases its analyses on the one below from the World Bank's E-government Handbook (2002, p.1) as it emphasises the core principles of good governance: "The use of information and communications technologies (ICT) to transform government by making it more accessible, effective and accountable. E-government includes: providing greater access to government information; promoting civic engagement by enabling the public to interact with government officials; making government more accountable by making its operations more transparent and thus reducing the opportunities for corruption; and providing development opportunities, especially benefiting rural and traditionally underserved communities."

Overview of ICT laws

-National ICT Policy: Bangladesh introduced its first ICT Policy in 2002. Due to weak implementation capacity, this policy was never fully realised. Post-election, the government revived the ICT policy and legal framework to enable their DB vision, and approved the new ICT Policy in 2009.

-ICT Act 2009: In addition to the ICT Policy 2009, the ICT Act 2009 was also promulgated. This was almost exactly the same as the ICT Act 2006, which was never adopted. The only change was an amendment to Clause 18, which had stipulated that the Controller of Certifying Authority (CCA) should be appointed within 90 days of the promulgation of the (2006) Act.

Overview of institutions

There are multiple institutions implementing ICT-related policies and legislations in Bangladesh. The findings reveal that the institutions responsible for the oversight and nurturing of the ICT sector have limited implementation capacity and unclear, sometimes overlapping, mandates that severely weaken sectoral policy execution and programme implementation.

Improving the legal and

institutional framework

-Ensure business process-engineering and adequate ICT infrastructure allowing automation to make processes faster and more efficient for citizens.

-Establish adequate data privacy and security provisions that ensure the confidentiality of sensitive personal information and prevent unauthorised access to it.

-Provide a roadmap for ICT Policy implementation. The ICT Policy 2009 has 306 action points, which seem disjointed and are bound to experience challenges in its implementation.

-Implement the Right to Information Act 2009 to make the government more transparent and accountable to citizens.

-Institutional restructuring, reforms and capacity building required to mainstream ICT in the provision of government services to citizens.

The main initiative under the Access to Information Programme, the Union Information and Service Centre (UISC), aims to achieve the two citizen-centric pillars of the DB agenda -- (i) connecting citizens and (ii) delivering services to the citizens' doorsteps. The centres are housed at a publicly accessible location, e.g. a union parishad office, and are run by a villager or local entrepreneur.

As a means of start up funding, the A2I Programme provides additional hardware and digital content. The UISC model is, however, not new in Bangladesh. D.Net's Pallitathya Kendra (PK), i.e. village information centre, has a similar model that has been implemented in selected rural areas.

Visits to two UISCs in Sirajganj and Tangail districts and conversations with local entrepreneurs, service users, the union parishad chairman and staff were used to study the UISC model and explore whether they were successful in using ICT tools to improve rural citizens' lives with access to information. While UISCs are a useful approach to sensitise rural people on what ICT can do for them, the current model does not meet the primary objectives of facilitating access to information and delivering pro-poor services.

The government's new regulatory and institutional initiatives -- in particular passing the ICT Act 2009 and establishing high level committees devoted to the proliferation of ICT for development -- are positive. However, much depends on whether new legislation is effectively implemented and whether these committees are successful in mainstreaming ICT at both governmental and citizen access levels.

The following are some recommendations:

-Implement institutional restructuring and process refoms: A centralised body must be institutionalised that can coordinate with ministries and execute the necessary reforms to make achievement of the citizen-centric pillars of the DB vision a possibility.

-Strengthen the regulatory framework: The ICT Act 2009 must be amended to provide adequate data privacy and security provisions and the Right to Information Act 2009 must be put into action using enabling ICT tools, so that citizens can access information quickly and effectively.

-Build ownership within the bureaucracy and depoliticise the agenda: The DB agenda is being planned and implemented by the UNDP funded Access to Information (A2I) Programme without building adequate ownership within the bureaucracy. True political will from all political parties that is sustained over many electoral cycles is required for ICT tools to facilitate true empowerment.

-Bridge the digital divide through greater community awareness and pro-poor service provision: UISCs as they are currently designed and implemented have not been able to meet the needs of the poor. Awareness raising and competitive pricing are essential as people need to see a value to these centres in order to use them. The A2I Project should offer flexible, responsive, and innovative investment mechanisms. If not, "Digital Bangladesh" will continue to be seen as just another clich├ęd political slogan that in reality does not create positive development outcomes for citizens, particularly those who are poverty stricken and marginalised.

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