The massive wave of information and communication technology (ICT) has hit every corner on this earth including the least developed countries (LDCs). Inhabitants of LDCs often question the validity of prioritizing ICT in development goals, sometimes above a country’s basic needs like food, shelter, national security. But thanks to the current governments catchy election manifesto of “Digital Bangladesh” and effective awareness campaigns from telecom operators, now anyone in Bangladesh, even with minimal IT knowledge, acknowledges the efficacy of ICT at least in smallest of forms. It is undeniable that the government has made commendable progress introducing ICT in almost every sector. It has successfully facilitated training for government officials, e-service implementation in ministries, digital education system in rural areas, mobile banking, agriculture information service, national e-service system, online income tax and retirement allowance, etc.
Then again the bigger question lies ahead: What’s next?
Bangladesh is striding towards becoming a middle-income country having transparency in all sectors by 2021. Undoubtedly this is one of the biggest leaps taken by any political party in this country to ensure social and economic prosperity through maximum use of technology. Yet few initiatives are taken by the government towards the goal of creating Digital Bangladesh call for close scrutiny:
WiFi buses vs. road map and bus time schedule: WiFi facilitated bus service was introduced in the city this April in order to provide internet connectivity to the commuters; whereas, we still struggle to operate google maps in our smartphones, trying to locate “easy-to-find” restaurant and wait around for hours at the bus stop not knowing when the bus might show up.
Online tender submission of scanned documents of printed papers: The Roads and Highways Department & Bangladesh Water Development Board web-sites, which are running successfully for the past few years, recently initiated the e-tender services that allow independent contractors to bid and submit tenders online, and therefore minimizing efforts to deliver documents physically. But absurdly, some of the documents are printed same as before and then scanned individually and submitted online and results a wastage of papers & well as time. This further limits users from other end to select and reuse those characters (texts/ numbers) from scanned documents (as Bengali Optical character recognition is still under development), requiring redundant manual inputs.
Booming e-commerce with no electronic payment system: Recent introduction of vitals for e-commerce activities like mobile money order services and mobile banking are significant achievements in Bangladesh. However, for five years, many organizations/ individuals have been pursuing government to implement more prominent electronic payment gateway (such as Paypal), and last year Bangladesh government finally acknowledged its importance through their annual e-book update. Some risks such as cybercrimes and money laundering are anticipated, but on the other hand it will open a wide gate of opportunities for local and international transactions. It’s high time for the government to act on maximizing the benefits from proper e-commerce by via electronic payment systems at the earliest.
Many more flaws such as above are anticipated and yet tolerable at this preliminary stage; after all, this is a nationwide drive that, in most cases, works in a trial and error basis. To nullify these small glitches, a self-rectifying system must be adopted that encourages young minds from respective departments, organizations, and ministries to come together and experiment, innovate and improvise system bugs with professional expertise and seek active end-users feedback. A similar model is being practiced in Central Bank. All reports sent by different banks are currently under automation. Young officials, with advance computer knowledge, are constantly developing systems reducing human errors and unnecessary effort with active feedback from the users (bankers) on a regular interval.
However, bureaucracy acts as a hindrance to innovation and experimentation; explained by the lobbying model theory, developed by Bellettini and Ottaviano, which explains aged-senior most workers show resistance to newer technology and lobby against such adoption with an apprehension that new technologies would lower their efficiency and therefore provide younger generation an upper hand. Hence, in order to provide a level playing field, interactive computer training curriculum, moving away from the traditional transient rote learning method need to be facilitated nationwide and top-down use of computer, at least in form of emails or e-updates, shall be in practice on a regular basis. Only then, the computers at government offices will not be merely showpieces or typewriters.
The government acknowledges that the success of e-government depends on advanced systems connecting citizens to government, which requires intra and inter-agency Information Systems implementations. It is also aware of the major stringency towards vision 2021; such as lack of quality ICT education, skilled HR and adequate Infrastructure. But to transform the digital dream into reality, the government needs to ensure aforementioned bug fixes and demonstrate constancy to its current course of action.
Raitul Islam Rabith is an Asst. Vice Precedent at LightCastle Partners, an emerging market specialized business planning and intelligence firm. Earlier he has worked at Citibank N.A & One Degree Initiative Foundation. Combining his diversified experience, Raitul quickly emerged as a key player in understanding financial models, legal frameworks and transparency in large companies. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Australian National University with double major in Accounting and Finance. He can be reached at [email protected]