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Bangladesh: Making IT Available Across the Country
Source: thedailystar.net
Source Date: Saturday, November 13, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Bangladesh
Created: Nov 15, 2010

Char Kukri Mukri union of Bhola has hogged news headlines with a modernist edge. As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina cut the digital ribbon launching information and service centres in 4501 unions with Helen Clerk, UNDP administrator and former Prime Minister New Zealand sharing the great moment from Kukri Mukri, Bangladesh has taken a stride. It has immense potentiality. We welcome the event wholeheartedly.

At the same time, we wish to make it clear that IT is as good as its utilisation. Each union has been given a laptop with internet connection. Unless it is put to optimal use geared to not only supplying information on demand but also ensuring utilisation of the input for efficient delivery of services it will remain a mere gadget on table-top. So the equipment would have to be linked to various service agencies both at the government and NGO levels to make it work. This calls for huge preparations in terms of field level networking drawing on actual devolution of powers with least amount of referencing and cross- referencing involved.

The demand for information would not be automatically created; people at the union level need to be initiated into it, encouraged to come forward, by building awareness about the benefits they can derive and holding up examples of some actual beneficiaries. But in order to operate the system we need intelligent and well-trained minds behind the computers. A module needs to be created of all information that rural people typically stand in need of in their everyday lives. Also, the union digital centres should be pressed into service in reaching benefits of Right to Information Act at the door steps of rural people. This will help address issues of corruption and delay involving transparency and accountability of the administration.

Particular care would have to be taken to ensure stable supply of power to the centres. So long as there is power outage of six hours almost everyday, the high-tech device is likely sit idle. Moving to solar power to keep the machine operating 9am to 5pm is an option that needs prioritizing.

Whenever IT is fielded, we are quick to point out that in order for it not to be a one-off affair, maintenance and continued logistical back-up are key to a sustained working of the technology. Imagine a situation where most of the 4501 laptops and their internet connection conk out of order for any length of time and we have effectively created a junk yard! Without sounding cynical, may we add, there should be a steady supply of maintenance manpower skilled in both hard and soft wares to all service centres, even if on a rotation, albeit sustained basis. Necessary budgetary allocations need to be ensured for the purpose.
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