(চুয়েটে ফোর্থ ইয়ারে পড়ার সময় নিচের লেখাটি লিখেছিলাম। কেন, মনে নেই।)
E-governance Discourse: Bangladesh Perspective
Sushanta Paul, ’02 batch, Dept. of CSE, CUET
27 January 2007
Since the emergence of e-governance as a magical antidote to combat corruption, red tape, bureaucratic inefficiency and ineffectiveness, nepotism, cronyism, lack of accountability and transparency especially in the developing countries, the effective use of ICTs has offered an avenue to ‘leapfrog’ slow economic development and to improve the endemically faulty and constantly repaired machinery of dysfunctional government. Effective deployment of ICT can lead to a radical reconfiguration of the hierarchical and centralized forms of administrative and social organizational structure, as well as expedite decentralized and interactive forms of communication-based on networked relationships between government, business, citizens and civil society. These new forms of relationships comprise an ‘e-governance architecture’; however, such a transformation requires a fully committed and functional government. This article examines Bangladesh as an exemplar of an institutionally weak state that requires radical reform initiatives. It explains how lack of transparency, symbiosis of the political and administrative structure, endemic corruption and ‘integrated clientelism’ create obstacles to e-governance led to reform and also proposes an ICT governance framework and identifies issues that need to be addressed for its operationalization. In Bangladesh, the promise of ICTs includes measures to bypass time-consuming, resource-intensive phases of growth also incurring an opportunity cost. Experience suggests that incremental, evolutionary change is more the reality than revolutionary shifts and sudden resolutions: why are conditions in developing countries likely to prove so different that the gap experienced in developed countries between promise and delivery will not occur. Certainly, the construction of enduring systems of governance and the development of an attitudinal shift that comes to regard the new regime as second nature may take longer than providing the technical means of data management and communication. The understandable desire to circumvent is in tension with the risks introduced, which may be better moderated by incremental change.
A recent joint research initiative for the study of e-government sponsored by the United Nations Division for Public Economics and Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration defined e-government as "utilizing the Internet and the world-wide-web for delivering government information and services to citizens." According to the World Bank, interest in e-government in general, and in electronic service delivery in particular, is best viewed as a response to the growing fragmentation and complexity of government. The effectual use of ICT in government facilitates an efficient, speedy, and transparent process for disseminating information to the public and other agencies, thus enhancing government administration performance. E-governance shifts the focus from government as the principal actor, beneficiary, and controller, through a useful but centralizing whole-of-government model, to greater engagement across the board, in a whole-of-community model, because it shifts primary attention from process alone to an integrated processing and the communication technologies that incorporates people, processes, information, and technology in the service of achieving governance objectives because it draws us away from a single focus on technical achievement towards the gains that users hope to achieve from that technology. It is thus primarily “transformational” rather than only an incremental improvement in the design and delivery of traditional systems. The main objectives of e-government are to restructure administrative functions and processes, overcome barriers to coordination and cooperation in public administration, monitor government performance, and improve the relationship between government and other stakeholders. A swift e-governance infrastructure is thus paramount for achieving administrative efficiency and procedural simplicity. E-governance facilitates decentralized networks for administrative activities; breaking down traditional centralizing patterns and creating conditions in structures and processes that make the system transparent, participatory, multilayered and accountable through loosening central controls on information.
With the advent of Internet technology, in the early part of the last decade, policymakers of the developed countries utilized the new developments in ICT and especially the TCP/IP protocol, in achieving the objectives of good governance. E-governance is noticed to introduce an Electronic State Management System based on information and communication technologies (ICT), including Internet technology. Conversely, failure to adopt new technologies and solutions threatens development in the kind of world and commercial enterprise that embraces ICT sectors; developing countries may have no choice but to do business in the way that influential partners require. Prominently, where some traditional infrastructure is lacking, the business may be encouraged to migrate from the place, the geographical center of an industry, to space, the virtual realm of services and negotiation.
Current Issues in Bangladesh
Signals of willingness to take up e-initiatives and explicit commitments to implementation prove Bangladesh as a country with explicit government attention to published policy about ICTs, in many respects well-positioned to shift fundamentally into the Information Age on a broad scale. In view of this, a country-wide ICT-infrastructure will be developed to ensure access to information by every citizen to facilitate the empowerment of people and enhance democratic values and norms for sustainable economic development by using the infrastructure for human resources development, governance, e-commerce, banking, public utility services and all sorts of on-line ICT-enabled services. Bangladesh’s e-government strategy is aimed at introducing new technologies to facilitate inter-agency and intra-agency communication and cooperation, and consequently to provide information and services to its citizens more effectively.
Professor Jamilur Reza Choudhury has pointed out at a conference in Melbourne that developing countries will take a long lead-time to deploy ICTs as tools and using them as facilitators for governance improvement. Even where governance has emerged as a focus, the emphasis has often been on straightforward improvements in transparency through wider, faster access – that is, using ICT’s most obvious and basic functions. This is a passive kind of transparency because it does not incorporate active responses and ongoing improvement. Yet against responding to even this opportunity, there are the remarkably low numbers of computers, notwithstanding incentives to purchase them. Similarly, enlarging opportunities for global linkages still encounters problems of comparative affordability for users. The Bangladesh Government’s IT policy is unexceptionable in its aims, but it relies both on machine and user capacity, and implementation has therefore been weak. There appears to be a ‘vicious cycle’ in the policy, for example where preference in employment is to be given to those who are IT-literate, but such literacy will and can only follow from access, training and constant review of capacity. Policy design is thus only weakly and rhetorically linked to resource capacity. The Government of Bangladesh appears to have recognized this deficiency and is embarking on a process designed to identify and respond to the training needs of all levels of government. In-service provision, examples include land records and transactions, government procurement, health records and advice, utility payments, postal services, taxation, recruitment, redress of grievances. The web portal has been slow to achieve broad use and has fallen foul of embedded controls on information release. Law has not yet moved to accommodate cyber transactions fully but also securely. In these can be seen traditional bureaucratic caution, first, in resisting information release as a diminution of power, and, second, in according to unfamiliar legal initiatives lower priority. In each case, the detailed aims of the Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) remain poorly implemented or unmet. At least some of these, such as the enactment of legislative controls on intellectual property rights and security, are within the province of the executive and the legislature and are not resource-intensive technological requirements at all. Failure ensues here for a bureaucratic and political bungling.
Bangladesh's experience reveals a disconnection between high-level policy development and lower-level engagement and commitment, and between broad infrastructure capacity and field-level operations. The importance of recognition of central management of e-governance as a key to coordinating improvements and embedding ICTs as part of a new culture of operations cannot be denied. Bangladeshi Finance Minister AMA Muhit has unveiled a nationwide information and communication technology (ICT) strategy aimed at making technology accessible to all. The ICT and telecommunication sector will receive a total allocation of Tk 563 crore (US$82 million) from the proposed budget for fiscal 2009/10 - Tk 298 crore (US$42 million) more than the last fiscal year. The allocation includes Tk 142 crore (US$20 million) for an annual development program for the Science and ICT Ministry, Tk 221 crore (US$32 million) for the Post and Telecommunication Ministry, a special allocation of Tk 100 crore (US$15 million) for ICT development and Tk 200 crore (US$30 million) for the Equity and Entrepreneurship Fund for ICT promotion. He announced that automated systems would be introduced in the education, land and health sectors and tax administration would be phased in over the next few years. Steps have been taken to integrate land surveys, land records, and land management and bring the whole land administration under digital management. Once this initiative becomes successful, we shall be able to resolve many complex issues surrounding land administration, which will realize our goal of building a Digital Bangladesh. Attempts will be made to introduce e-governance and e-commerce by 2014 and 2012 respectively, to make the administration and business activities more efficient and transparent.
The United Nations has signaled the importance of addressing e-readiness and capacity in Bangladesh specifically: Bangladesh’s e-government readiness ranking is very low, above only a few smaller or disadvantaged states; low in linear development in portal and service provision; in the lowest scoring group for delivery stages and utilization including within the South-central Asia grouping. The World Economic Forum ranked Bangladesh’s networked readiness at 118 out of 122 countries. In readiness components, Bangladesh typically scores at very low levels except in government readiness, where it is only about three-quarters of the way down the list (WEF, Global Information Technology Reports). In Bangladesh, human resource issues suffer from governance failure, easily overtaking an emphasis on specific skill requirements such as ICT experience at the time of recruitment in the public sector; despite high-level policy commitment to reform. Specific technologies, such as mobile telephones, have experienced startling take-up, while older but essential infrastructure, such as landlines, and parallel new substitutes, such as satellites, remain deficient. In Bangladesh, good governance generally is at a premium and subsequently, in the absence of adequate readiness, a gap emerges between those who have the technical skills and those who do not. This digital division creates a super-elite class within the already structured, classified and hierarchical administrative and political structure limiting cultural and regional diversity on the Internet. Success in e-governance requires much broader and far-reaching readiness in terms of policy initiatives, infrastructure building and skill development, most of which are not technological in nature.
In Bangladesh, technical support is very inadequate and inconsistent in expertise leaving the real use of computers at work unsatisfactorily, with an emphasis on word processing and hence putting technical capacity of machines under-utilized. Trained personnel were very unevenly distributed, but generally, the level was low, and nominated skills beyond basic levels were also low due to significant shortfalls in capacity. Although the other access arrangements raised total access to nearly three-quarters, it can be inferred that the absence of a personal computer will inhibit work on and familiarity with ICT, thus reinforcing traditional ‘analog’ bureaucratic work – pen, paper, and files. Internal and external connectivity were variable, with a strong reliance on dial-up, but a strong response to email availability is counter to actual computer access (and contradicted by other survey data). For e-governance itself, awareness was positive overall but perception is skewed to the higher levels, which again accords with direct access both to machines and to explicit policy discussion.
Such findings show a troublesome combination of understanding of real need coupled with the promotion of achievements to date and an apparent willingness to overlook or downplay the consequences for meeting policy directions. There is a disconnection between statistical reporting of technical capacity, inferences about probable use of computers irrespective of actual numbers and ratios per person in the civil service, and very little awareness of how this inherent incapacity must contribute to resistance to change in work practices, whether implicitly (lack of computer access) or explicitly (frustration at limited access; adherence, instead, to old practices). Under such conditions, the pursuit of digital Bangladesh can sound Utopian.
1. The common confusion between ICT capacity for delivery and the use of ICT at a deeper, more meaningful level to change patterns of work and responsiveness.
2. Priority to governance planning before implementation pressures overwhelming attention to governance. This is much harder because it seems to require deferring urgent implementation, as well as running against the obvious ‘out of the box’ capacity that modern desktop computers offer as a key feature.
3. An e-governance architecture is required to create the structural and functional readiness within Bangladesh now as par demonstrated through Government commitment.
4. More difficult at first sight, government-mandated use of Bangla has still to be accommodated technically.
5. Inadequate technical and policy capacity is a fundamental barrier to digital Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the lack of technical capacity and public managers’ perceptions of ICT is problematic in regard to issues such as migration to IP-based networks, implementation of mobile communication systems, and e-commerce applications, though capacity-building measures do exist. One of the chief obstacles to effective e-governance is a lack of awareness about the usefulness of the Internet in policymaking, coordination of policy implementation, creating portals in engaging important actors in the policy process, and building an open and transparent public platform for wider participation.
6. Recognizing the differing interests among stakeholders and developing a simple and manageable e-governance infrastructure is a key challenge. The Government of Bangladesh must evaluate how strategic e-governance plans are developed, communicated and integrated into the existing structure of public administration. It is also important to identify the changes needed in structure, processes, and people. Within Bangladesh, the greatest challenge at present is the reconstruction or creation of institutions that will enable good governance of the whole society, such as the restitution of parliamentary democracy, independence of the judiciary, appropriate separation of powers and remedying endemic corruption on large and small scales in the relationships between the governing and the governed bodies.
7. More fundamentally, current political circumstances in Bangladesh are at odds with the goals of the official IT policy. A policy focus on governance, however, may helpfully resolve these contradictions, changing the management paradigm for the public sector and for its theoreticians. Indeed, the command and control approach of traditional public services is not necessarily incompatible with a governance approach. For Bangladesh the challenge will also include extending central and major regional governance down to the village level, positively disrupting traditional practices of patronage.
When the buzz word e-Commerce started to get its popularity, many of our ICT giants paid much attention to it and accordingly, they persuaded the policymakers of the government and in 2001 they formed an ICT task-force committee for introducing e-governance in Bangladesh. Apparently, assessing their propaganda it was assumed that the government would implement e-governance overnight. However, over the past nine years, insignificant progress has been marked so far. In the e-governance environment, all governmental organizations should be networked and interconnected. This connectivity facilitates exchanging information among different organs of the government without any manual intervention. Ideally, for this, we need to build up IOS (Inter-Organizational Systems) or EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) software. Unfortunately, to date, all software systems that developed in our governments' various organizations are discrete in nature and so they do not support inter-departmental or inter-organizational data sharing techniques.
Computerization and e-governance are not synonymous. In fact, over the five years, computerization processes in some ministries or government sectors have been initiated. But truly speaking it is not e-governance. We have to go a long way to implement e-governance in our country.
It is true that available resources for e-governance in Bangladesh are inadequate. The low fixed telephone density is one of the major barriers to digital communications (which paves the way to Internet communication). However, the rapid growth of the mobile telephonic network presumably overcomes this barrier. Besides, we can also use the underused optical fiber network of the railway department for this purpose. For global connectivity for e-governance, a submarine cable connection will play a significant role if we use it appropriately.
For establishing e-governance in Bangladesh, ICT infrastructure can be built step by step even at the village level, if we have a Road Map or master plan for e-governance using our limited resources.
Decentralization of distributed database is one of the essential features of the e-governance. The decentralized or localized database ensures autonomy as well as reduces traffic loads in network communication. Keeping this in mind, we need to design e-governance for Bangladesh. Strategically, we have to prioritize the sectors of the government which is to be addressed first.
For any good governance, Local government is vital and crucial and in Bangladesh, this is our upazilla administrative unit. So, e-governance in Bangladesh should be initiated at the upazilla level first. Perhaps, this bottom-up approach (i.e. starting from upazilla) strategy for e-governance is the most appropriate in a country like ours, where the majority of the population lives in villages under upazilla administrations.
Internet access is too expensive in Bangladesh compared to Western developed countries. In Bangladesh, the lowest cost to gain Internet access is US$0.50 per hour through a dial-up system. Installation of necessary telecommunication facilities for ISP companies is also at the preliminary stage as the country is still not under the full BTCL telecommunication network. A telephone density of 0.50 connections per 100 people is one of the lowest in the world. This compares unfavorably with neighboring countries, namely India (1.0), Nepal (0.5), Pakistan (2.1), Sri Lanka (1.0), and Thailand (2.5). An installation charge of US$450 for a new line is also one of the highest in the world (e.g., Pakistan US$90, India US$60), and the waiting time for a connection is more than a decade. Except for the capital city of Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong, a telephone connection remains a pipedream for most Bangladeshis. Even in those cities, problems persist in securing telephone connections, but residents in both areas somehow manage the connections through lobbying, and, sometimes, offering bribes to BTCL officials.
Bangladesh lacks infrastructural support, e.g., electricity, telephone networks. Since only 1.1 percent of the total population enjoys the use of electricity, the use of computers remains beyond the reach of the overwhelming majority of people in Bangladesh. On average, there is only one PC per 1,000 people in Bangladesh as compared to 585.2 PCs per 1,000 people in the U.S. Over the last decade, attempts have been made to lay a submarine cable to increase both the speed of overseas data transmission and Internet service in Bangladesh. Yet one still finds a shortage of IT experts in the country to run existing IT initiatives. Most IT institutions, except public universities, are training computer operators instead of computer professionals.
Financial constraints can be viewed as a major problem in this context. But if the government is really sincere enough to use resources in an economical way then the funding for e-governance will not be a big issue. For instance, we can reduce the software procurement cost if we use open source software or free software for developing various modules for e-governance. Besides, funding can also be possible from the World Bank, UNDP (is supporting some ICT projects of the government), DFID, EU, Microsoft or other sources for initiating such projects.
In digital Bangladesh, we hope a transformation will occur in the realm of commerce and industry, though there is no major mainstream e-commerce yet, fiscal policies for e-commerce are not framed. ITC can be used for marketing and promotion of products, for increasing internal efficiency, and for communication transactions between businesses. It is essential that the software and hardware industry of Bangladesh becomes a part of the global supply chain for ITC products and services. Our computer experts also have the knowledge to develop supporting components to improve the quality of a device. So, a government initiative with long vision is needed and in addition developing counties like us can jointly invest and develop a project for building hardware plants in a selected place. We should not forget that here we have a big market and to some extent, we can be dependent on own products.
Finally, the tendency of both ruling and opposition parties to politicize everything in Bangladesh has had an adverse effect on the desired growth of ICT initiatives at both the public and private levels. As political power changes hands between the two major parties in Bangladesh, the bitter rivalry between the BNP and AL often results in the abandonment of policies pursued by the previous government. This feature of the country's political culture has thwarted efforts to promote the IT sector in Bangladesh.
Infrastructure, governance and education, the three most vital areas for the growth of the nation should be transformed into a digital system. The government has to take steps to empower the citizens who have to access to ITC, and the skill to use it. We have to establish technology-driven e-governance which includes e-administration e-commerce, e-production, e-agriculture, e-health, etc. E-governance enables the continuous enhancement of the action of the state, focuses on the efficiency of the internal administration and establishes an Information Management System to arrange internal process speeding up decision-making at all levels of the government. E-governance aims to place the government within the reach of all citizens increasing transparency and citizen participation. Thus, the development of e-governance should promote universal access to government services, integrative administrative systems, networks, and databases, and make such information available to the citizen via the Internet. Operationalizing e-governance will come down not to an assertion of leadership through ever more comprehensively designed policy because that has been done very well, but by demonstrating that government and its governance arrangements can be made strong enough to lead such a disruptive intervention with its own practices and its citizens’ expectations; that is, “the chief challenge for government is not the implementation of new technologies; it is organizational change required to develop more productive information flows”.
Optimistically enough, in two crucial respects, the Government of Bangladesh is in a good position to benefit from ICT-related governance reforms. The first one lies in the level of awareness of its senior public sector management and awareness both of the importance of policy development and leadership. The principal obstacles to building on this foundation can be met, but only at a considerable additional commitment and an affordable cost. These are in a technical capacity, resource allocation and, most challengingly of all, in reform and strengthening of national institutions. The last, for example, underpins the role of the law and the behavior of the legislature and judiciary. The second one, almost paradoxically, lies in Bangladesh’s attachment to hierarchical management. Although over time e-mediated relationships can and probably should weaken and recast this attachment, in the short term it offers central planners the opportunity to build a phased implementation of ICT across the society and to use their considerable authority to enforce its direct use, at least by its own officers.
In one of the clichés of management reform, the Government of Bangladesh has shown clearly that it is prepared to ‘talk the talk’; now it must ‘walk the walk’. In this it should be assisted to draw on the experiences of other jurisdictions and commentators, recognizing that creation of an effective e-governance architecture is a desirable goal for all users of ICTs, and yet to be wholly achieved anywhere. Finally, it can be stated that we have resources in terms of manpower. Among the new generation, many are getting technologically solvent. We can use them in our e-governance project. But preconditions for initiating such a huge project, the government needs to be honest, transparent, and stable with a clear vision for the future. There has to be an implementation of ITC in virtually every sector-agriculture to government budgeting, port management to the National Board of Revenue’s tax management, and media to security management. Therefore, we are moving ahead with a dream of establishing a digital Bangladesh by the year 2021. The transition to the digitization process will, on the one hand, help accelerate production and on the other hand, help curb corruption. In the technological front, we need to formulate a realistic policy along with the cyber law in order to facilitate digital Bangladesh.