PROBLEMS OF E-GOVERNANCE IN BANGLADESH
AND POSSIBLE STEPS TOWARDS SOLUTIONS
with research assistance from
Brainstorming Seminar on
“Road Map for ICT Development in Bangladesh”
Dated 30th June, 2003
Venue: IDB Bhaban
This paper tackles the issues and challenges that Bangladesh is currently facing with regards to implementation of e-Governance. Although it emphasizes on the problems stifling the growth of e-Governance, the objective is to present the hindrances in the context of what needs to be done to deal with the current challenges. The recommendations are presented in terms of specific steps to bring into perspective the priorities that may be considered while making strategic plans for national level e-Governance implementation. The paper begins by clarifying the concepts related to e-Governance and by shedding light on popular misconceptions that are often causes of misdirected conclusions.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction .................. 3
2. Conceptualization of e-Governance ................ 3
2.1. What e-Governance is Not? .................. 3
2.2. Distinction between e-Governance and e-Government .................. 3
2.3. Defining e-Government .................. 5
3. Selected e-Governance Projects in Bangladesh .................. 5
4. Challenges of e-Governance .................. 6
4.1. Challenges of G2G/e-Government .................. 6
4.2. Challenges of G2B and G2C .................. 8
4.3. General Challenges of e-Governance .................. 9
5. Possible Steps Towards Solutions .................. 10
5.1. Recommendation for G2G .................. 10
5.2. Recommendations for G2B and G2C .................. 12
5.3. General Recommendations for e-Governance .................. 13
5.4. e-Government Implementation Strategy .................. 14
With the onset of information revolution, many developing countries have looked at IT as a possible new tool to solve age-old problems of poverty, bad governance, and sluggish economic growth. While the developed countries have been able to benefit greatly from the wide use of IT, many developing countries are still grasping to make sense of how IT fits into their problems. The trend is true in the case of e-Governance also. In Bangladesh, e-Governance has been talked about a lot, some government offices have even taken innovative steps towards certain e-Government projects. Since this is a new concept for government officials who are used to familiar methods of work, the growth of e-Governance is met with resistance and fear, among other infrastructural problems. But the good news is that the government is taking e-Governance very seriously. The national ICT Task Force headed by the Honorable Prime Minister herself has put great emphasis on identifying challenges in the implementation of nation-wide e-Governance and on initiating pilot projects in various sectors of the government through a project called the Support to ICT Task Force (SICT). It is being implemented under the Ministry of Planning. Also, the Government of Bangladesh is also getting substantial foreign cooperation in terms of financial assistance and technical collaboration for realization of e-Governance at a national scale.
2. CONCEPTUALIZATION OF E-GOVERNANCE
Before moving on to defining what e-Governance comprises of, it is important to realize what e-Governance is not. Misconceptions lead to baseless fear and unfounded resistance. That is why it is important to first realize what e-Governance is not.
2.1. What e-Governance is Not?
a) It is not about changing government processes and inter-agency or inter-personal relationships
b) It is not limited to computerization of government offices
c) It is not just about being able to type documents using computers
d) It does not put government security and confidentiality at risk
2.2 Distinction Between e-Governance and e-Government
e-Governance is composed of three major components:
1. G2C (Government-to-Citizen) involves interaction of individual citizens with the government. Examples include payment of utility bills or downloading government forms from the Internet. The e-Citizen Portal of Singapore is one of the most highly acclaimed G2C sites. The portal has relevant information organized according to topics and has specific entry points for teenagers, working adults, senior citizens and foreigners. It also has scope for citizen feedback and questions.
Fig 1: e-Citizen Portal of Singapore
2. G2B (Government-to-Business) involves interaction of business entities with the government. Examples include corporate tax filing or government procurement process through the Internet. One primary success story of online government procurement is Malaysia’s e-Prohelan web-site which has about 3,500 government procurement centers and about 30,000 suppliers.
3. G2G (Government-to-Government) involves interaction among government officials, whether within a government office or within government offices. Examples include using e-mail for internal government communication or a customized software for tracking progress of government projects. A popular G2G service is e-Police System in Karnataka, India, which has an electronic searchable database of various types of police records.
It is G2G which is generally referred to as being e-Government. Therefore, e-Government may be perceived as being a sub-component of overall e-Governance. Although it needs to be kept in mind that in some literature, the terms ‘e-Government’ and ‘e-Governance’ are used interchangeably. In this paper, e-Government refers to G2G only, not the other components of e-Governance, namely G2C and G2B.
2.3 Defining e-Government
e-Government is about automation of existing every-day government activities. Some examples include: (a) day-to-day communication such as notification of a meeting time; (b) accessing documents such as meeting minutes, policy documents; (c) accessing needed data such as export growth of a certain commodity; (d) tracking progress of government projects; (e) disseminating policies and strategies such as laws passed at the Parliament.
3. SELECTED E-GOVERNMENT PROJECTS IN BANGLADESH
Some of the major e-government projects in Bangladesh are briefly outlined below. This is by no means a comprehensive list.
Ministry of Finance: has customized software for budget planning, sensitivity analysis, impact analysis, financial projections and various reports
National Board of Revenue: Much of the activities of NBR has been computerized. NBR is computerizing the revenue budget procedure.
Ministry of Science and ICT: Creating web-sites containing information about various ministries
Ministry of Communication: Provides online searchable database of contractors, tenders. They have also created a Project Monitoring System for tracking progress of projects. They have databases of 9,011 bridge structures and 20,000 km roads
Bangladesh Planning Commission: Creating software for interfacing between development and revenue budget. The IT system at Bangladesh Plannin Commission has the following features:
o File sharing facilities through LAN
o Video Conferencing
o Electronic Notice Board
o Digital Library containing policies of Bangladesh in searchable format, minutes of meetings, other useful documents etc.
o ADP database facilities
o Software for tracking movement of files
Fig 2: Internal Web-site of Bangladesh Planning Commission
4. CHALLENGES OF E-GOVERNANCE
In this section, it is important to treat e-Government and G2B/C separately since the problems are largely distinct. G2G provides foundation for a more coordinated approach towards G2C and G2B, which is why the initial emphasis should be on G2G. The government offices themselves should internally prepared first before offering its services to the public through electronic means. We will deal with each following issue by summarizing the current status and then indicating the challenges associated with the issue.
4.1 Challenges of G2G/e-Government:
Inadequate ICT Infrastructure within the government: Most ministries have a largely inadequate number of working computers. Very few government offices have their computers connected to the Internet. Even fewer have internal networks. However, it is also true that a number of government offices have computers that remain almost completely unused due to lack of integrated planning.
Inadequate access to ICT by government officials: It is generally the case that computers in government offices generally find their way into the offices of the high-level officials. Sometimes it is seen that they possess more than one computer coming from different externally-funded projects. The desk level officers generally are not considered for access to computers despite the fact that interest about ICTs and ability to learn new technologies are higher among younger officers than older. Computers have sadly become somewhat of a status symbol in government offices.
Awareness of government officials about ICT: More than anything else, it is the mindset of government officials that poses the biggest bottleneck to e-Government. There are a number of reasons why they resist the use of computers beyond usual typing of letters and documents. Some of the primary reasons are mentioned: (1) they are resistant to any kind of change in their familiar working environment; (2) they fear that computerization of different government activities may make some people redundant; (3) they think that computers are meant for low-level typist kind of work.
Non-acceptability of IT systems: It is often seen that even after an IT system is implemented in a government office, it becomes hard for government officials to convince them to use it. Besides the general lack of awareness about ICTs and the fears discussed earlier, some other factors also play a part in their non-acceptability of IT systems. They fear important data getting lost or they are doubtful about the security features of computers.
Lack of incentive structure for government officials: In the private sector, it is seen that people skilled in the use of IT are generally valued more than a counterpart who is not as IT proficient. In the government, however, there is no such system of discriminatory valuation of personnel. As a consequence, there is not enough of an incentive for government officials to become IT savvy. The use of IT is mostly self-motivated and a matter of individual free choice.
Lack of adequate training programs: Many e-Government or computerization projects suffer gravely from lack of adequate training programs. Training is of vital necessity in familiarizing users with computers and breaking their fears. Some officials go through unplanned ‘IT Training’, often in another country, and then come back not getting any scope for utilizing his/her newly gathered knowledge of IT and forgetting it all in due time. The training programs are mostly not need-based and arranged at arbitrary periods, not during the implementation phase of an e-Government project.
Lack of reliable maintenance: Another significant problem is that generally there is no in-house maintenance personnel. It is of vital necessity that computers gets fixed as soon as they malfunction or users very easily lose confidence over IT systems. Most offices have contracts with local hardware companies for maintenance, but their services are often not immediate.
Lack of sustainability of IT Systems: Almost all e-Government projects are funded through external sources, primarily foreign funds. This brings about a very vulnerable situation with regards to the sustainability of these projects. As soon as the external fund dries up, it is often seen that there is no fund left even to buy printer paper. As a result of this, there is a lot of hardware sitting in government offices unused as memories of a bygone project.
Frequent, unpredictable transfer of government officials: Another major problem to popularizing e-Government in an office is that government officials get frequently and unpredictably transferred. It is seen that IT systems are often dependent on one or two IT champions. As soon as they are transferred, no one remains to take their position.
Lack of ownership of IT systems: A direct result of the system of government transfers is that there is great unwillingness to take ownership of IT-related projects. If hardware and IT systems remain unused, there is no one to take responsibility and encourage others. There is currently no government structure in place to create this ownership of e-Government at the level of individual offices.
Lack of Bangla standardization: Currently, there is no standardization for use of Bangla in the electronic format. Different people use different fonts, often resulting in documents not opening in someone else’s computer. Another major issue is that none of these fonts maintain the international standard – UNICODE - as a result of which Bangla content cannot be put up on the Internet using these fonts. Bangla documents now have to be uploaded on the Web as files only.
4.2 Challenges of G2B and G2C
ICT infrastructure across the nation: Bangladesh’s ICT infrastructure is still quite underdeveloped. The international submarine cable installation has significantly been delayed, despite the keen necessity of an optical fiber link with global network. This delay has caused a difficulty of setting up Internet Exchange (IX) in Bangladesh, as establishment of IX is a must from the viewpoints of the efficient Internet connection and the national security. However, there is a good progress of digitalization of network for narrowband service. Construction of DDN (Digital Data Network) is smoothly on-going throughout the country, including digitalization by using optical fiber cables for backbone network and junction network in the city areas. This development will cater to the demands for the time being. Bangladesh has also joined the submarine cable network consortium which will link Bangladesh with Southeast Asia, Middle East and Western Europe (SEA-ME-WE). The SEA-ME-WE 4 is scheduled to be operational by the first quarter of 2004.
Access to ICT by citizens: Bangladesh has a very low level of Internet and PC penetration standing at 0.04% and 0.09% respectively, according to a global IT study conducted by Harvard University, USA. There are no public places that allow access to the Internet at low cost. In such a scenario, it is a matter of great concern how people would get G2C services even if they were offered publicly.
Access to ICTs by businesses: It is mostly the larger businesses in Bangladesh that have computers. Very few among these have connectivity to the Internet. Under such circumstances, many businesses may not be able to participate in online tenders or application procedures.
Public Awareness about ICTs: Although there is much hype about IT among the younger generation, there is not a high level of awareness among the general public about how ICTs may be useful to their lives. Also, there is cultural inhibition about the use of PCs in this country. From a cultural context, people are generally not familiar with the concept of using computers. ICTs are still generally perceived to be a thing for the rich and the elite. As a result, there is no demand or pressure from the public for service delivery through the use of ICTs.
4.3 General Challenges of e-Governance
Lack of necessary regulatory/legal framework: The regulatory/legal framework in Bangladesh has not yet been modernized to accommodate the growing needs of the electronic world. Still, in government offices, an e-mail has no official value and cannot be legally considered an acceptable mode of communication. There are no laws to protect against cyber-crime, neither are there any laws for electronic authentication.
Inadequate human resource capacity: For a country of more than 130 million people, the number of IT-trained people in the country is meager with about 1,630 incoming students at public universities, 2,370 at private universities and 1,120 at polytechnics. On top of that, most of the well-trained IT graduates of the country leave since there is little scope for them in Bangladesh in terms of professional development.
Preparedness of local software companies: Most local software companies still have not developed the level of expertise or professionalism needed to handle large-scale integrated e-Government projects. Although the scenario is rapidly changing in terms of needed technical expertise, the companies are still lagging behind in terms of professionalism and experienced management.
Supply of electricity across the nation: With about 30% of the population of Bangladesh having access to electricity, the question of providing access to computers to a large section of the population seems like a two-step problem. Even the fortunate 30% has to suffer daily power cuts. Since there are yet no low-cost methods of running computers without electricity, the issue of electricity has to be solved before a widespread dissemination of ICTs is possible.
High-cost, low-reliability of Internet access: Internet access cost in Bangladesh is very high and highly unreliable. There are virtually no dial-up options outside major cities since long distance calls are exorbitantly expensive. Internet access and availability of PCs are disproportionately concentrated in Dhaka. Most ISPs are dependent on VSAT transmission and the bandwidths being used varies from 64Kbps to 4Mbps. 60 percent ISPs are between 128Kbps and 1Mbps in this concern. This is far below what is required even by current demand. Current situation of dialup Internet connection is rather poor. Connection over 21Kbps to 31Kbps is the speed in home use.
5. POSSIBLE STEPS TOWARDS SOLUTION
5.1 Recommendations for G2G
Build ICT Infrastructure throughout the government: Investment should be made on building ICT infrastructure throughout the government, keeping in mind that the returns from such investment will be long-term. Stand-alone computers (i.e. those that are not connected in a network) are not very useful for e-Government. There should be plans for computers to be connected internally in offices through LAN, then inter-connected with other relevant offices through WAN. Eventually the network needs to extend to local-government level. It is important to recognize that the savings in time and money from e-Government will be realized gradually. No overnight returns should be expected.
Stress on awareness before training: One of the primary reasons why government officials resist the use of IT lies in the way the training programs are structured. The typical training programs introduce government officials to the world of IT through programs such as Microsoft Word, thus throwing them into a confusion about what computers are really about and how it will benefit them. Since most officials do not need to type documents themselves, they cannot relate to the computers as far as their daily office work is concerned. These IT training programs should be re-oriented so that in the first classes they are introduced to the concepts of how computers may make their work more efficient. The training programs should stress on awareness about the potential of IT in government rather than concentrate too much on teaching officials how to type. And more importantly, there is not much typing involved in most of the customized e-Government software. The training programs should concentrate on creating a mental framework towards IT, not on physical skills in using the keyboard.
Provide networked computers to mid-to-lower level officers as well as high-level officers: The practice of providing computers to only high-level officials needs to be reconsidered. It is the younger officials who are more enthusiastic about ICTs and, more likely to find more creative use of computers and even train themselves in basic handling of computers. Mid-to-lower level officers should be given access to computers. This would be a good way of investing into the future, of preparing the government officers who will take the lead in the future.
Create incentive structure for use of IT: There should be some kind of incentive structure for the promoters of IT in the government. Recognition or award from the Prime Minister or the President may be a good way of starting a practice of appreciating the work of IT champions in the government.
Give importance to regular training: There should be planned training programs to orient officers for using computers and more importantly, to develop awareness about the potential of IT. Without adequate and timely training and awareness programs, e-Government projects are likely to fail no matter how much the investment.
Make plans for reliable maintenance: There should be a process to have 24 hr., and immediate maintenance, without which critical e-Government projects should not be undertaken. It is also vital to maintain confidence of users. The maintenance work should be ideally outsourced since the current government structure does not allow internal IT maintenance team.
Updating of database: There should also be a process for regular updating of data since almost all e-Government projects involve the storage and retrieval of huge amounts of data. An outdated database is worse or potentially more dangerous than no database at all.
Build sustainable models for e-Government: To build sustainable models for e-Government, three processes have to be outsourced: those involving personnel training, hardware and software maintenance and updating of databases. Also, steps have to be taken so e-Government projects that get started through external funds are internalized within the budget of the government so that these projects do not meet sad deaths after external funding stops.
Transfer issue: Transfer of government officials is an inherent part of the government process. While taking decisions about such transfer, the level of IT training of the candidate for transfer should be taken into account.
Appoint CIO: To create ownership and accountability structure for e-Government projects, an interested mid-to-high level government official in a particular office should be appointed as CIO (Chief Information Officer) of that office. It will be the responsibility of the CIO to make plans for integration of ICT into the activities of that office and promote e-Government. In many Asian countries such as Thailand, Japan and Malaysia, the concept of CIO in government has been internalized and their responsibilities made mandatory. They go through a different kind of more rigorous IT training. In Japan, Inter-Ministerial CIO Council was formed, which meets regularly to discuss issues of e-Government implementation. In Thailand also, CIOs are required to meet regularly and a regular CIO award is given by the government gets much highlight in the media.
Standardization for use of Bangla: To ease the use of Bangla in electronic formats, there should be some kind of standardization of fonts that maintain international UNICODE standards. Since communication and official documents in the government are still in Bangla, this standardization is a very urgent need without which integration of ICTs with government activities will face major hurdles.
Consider issues of interoperability and interconnectivity: Another important issue for consideration is maintaining open standards in building IT systems so that they can be integrated with IT systems in other government offices. Use of open source technologies can be an important step in this respect.
5.2 Recommendations for G2B and G2C
Build ICT infrastructure across the nation: Investment should be made to build ICT infrastructure throughout the nation. The international submarine cable project should be expedited as well as the Internet Exchange (IX) establishment project. The following are some of JICA’s recommendations in building infrastructure: The following are the existing infrastructures that can be used for broadband transmission—of optical fiber cable transmission:
– OPGW (OPtical fiber Grounding Wire) of high tension power line:
PDB has advanced installation of OPGW considering its usefulness as resource. Sooner or later, PDB with PGCB intends to realize an entire 48-core optical fiber network throughout the country. This OPGW network is very valuable as a national ICT resource.
– Optical fiber cable of BR:
BR has installed optical fiber cables along their railways. All the optical fiber cable network, however, have exclusively used in the mobile telephone network by GrameenPhone in accordance with the Contract. Almost all the number of cores are two and those seem not to be always in good condition, as far as we were learned.
According to Highway & Road Department, there has not exist any plan under which duct installation is considered for optical fiber cable from planning stage. The ducts were always constructed upon the request of BTTB, separately from road construction.
– Gas Pipelines:
According to GTCL, there are no optical fiber cables in its Right of Way (RoW). GTCL is aware of how best to use the RoW today. The company is desirous to install some optical fiber cables along their pipe lines when newly planned.
Create online access points at public places: Online access points should be made from public places such as post offices so that anyone can get access to the Internet at low, subsidized cost. This is a model that is popular in almost all countries. Without such facilities, G2C and G2B services may not be able to reach target population easily.
Extend connectivity outside cities: Steps have to be taken to allow easy Internet access from outside cities. Incentives will have to be given to ISPs to locate outside cities.
Organize public awareness programs on IT: Public awareness programs should be arranged highlighting the relevance of IT in daily life. It should be emphasized that IT and computerization is not only about typing documents in the computer. The cultural inhibition to using computers must be overcome.
5.3 General Recommendations for e-Governance:
Push for a comprehensive regulatory framework for e-Governance: There is an urgent need for a comprehensive regulatory/legal framework for realization of e-Governance. Some of the issues to be included in the framework are IPR laws to protect intellectual property, laws for acceptance of documents in electronic format (such as downloaded documents), laws against cyber-terrorism to protect against unauthorized hacking, laws to enable electronic authentication. Also needed is an Electronic Certification Authority designated by the government which should have the authority to provide electronic certification to organization and individuals.
Create and retain adequate IT human resource: There needs to be a well-planned program to create a greater number of IT human resource in the country. The number of seats in the computer science and engineering departments of universities needs to be increased. Steps need to be taken to monitor the quality of training institutes. Government certification programs to test individuals need to be arranged for maintaining quality of IT-related diplomas. Efforts should also be taken to retain the massive number of IT-trained personnel Bangladesh is losing each year.
Invest in public IT literacy: IT literacy programs should start early in schools because it is at that tender age that students are most open to new ideas and technologies. The government should also arrange, encourage and subsidize IT vocational training to create an IT-literate society.
Encourage local software companies to prepare themselves: The local software companies should take steps to become more prepared for handling government IT projects, especially in areas of project management. The software companies may also need to cooperate among themselves to jointly handle large-scale e-Government projects. Individual software companies in Bangladesh mostly do not have the human resource capacity to handle government projects. The government should take steps to give public projects to software companies so that they gain needed experience for larger projects.
Invest in reliable supply of electricity: Steps need to be taken to explore alternative sources of power or alternative means of power generation. Different developing countries are experimenting with solar power, bicycle-generated power etc. Bangladesh should also take similar steps.
Deregulation of ISP and telephony service providers: The ISP and telephone service provision must be deregulated to allow for greater competition and lower price. Also, VoIP is a popular means of communicating with the outside world, but it is still illegal under current regulations. VoIP should be made legal as soon as possible to allow greater use of computers for everyday activities of people and generate people’s interest in ICTs.
5.4 e-Government Implementation Strategy
The following steps should be taken for electronic government in Bangladesh:
a. Identify functional areas in all Ministry/Division/Department and Corporations most necessary to be taken up and also those, which are easily assessable to EG.
b. Make an inventory of existing applications/packages in use by different Ministry/Division/Department and Corporations facilitating EG.
c. Initiate moves to encourage Ministry/Division/Department and Corporations to develop and link already existing data bases to the public domain.
d. Initiate and develop data warehouse in all Ministry/Division/Department and Corporations to facilitate the process of EG.
e. Create awareness and assist in database building activities in all Government/semi Government organization.
f. Initiate and develop pilot projects in application that currently not available so as to extend full benefit of IT (say for an example EG in the Planning Division, ERD, Bureau of Statistics, Finance Division, Ministry of Science & Technology, IMED, and the LGED).
g. Encourage the Government to prescribe knowledge of computers as an essential qualification for recruitment/promotion of various levels.
h. Develop and integrate suitable models in areas of EG
i. To launch and ensure wide participation of existing staff in computer literacy programmes.
j. Develop system for seamless transfer of information between offices dealing with public administration of the Government.
k. Set up and facilitate specific communication network for the government sectors.
l. Assist Government in identification and implementation of suitable hardware and software packages for electronic governance.
m. Establish links worldwide with institutions engaged in similar activities so as to optimize the benefits by building sustaining platform for interchange of ideas and experiences.
n. Initiate amendments in Government Acts, Rules and Regulations under various Departments and Ministries to put in place IT and web enabled citizen services.
o. Establish organizations for advising Government regarding development of strategies for use of Information Technology by Government so that latest technologies and best practices are harnessed. This could take the form of National Electronics Government Project/Unit/ (NEGP)/(NEGU) on the lines of Central Information Technology Unit (CITU) set up in UK in Nov., 1995.
p. Develop special pilot projects on Paperless Government-On-Line through use of web and internet technology.
q. Build convergence into connected Services Delivery Programmes relating to the common citizen.
r. Develop commercial and governmental systems for issuing and managing digital signatures/electronic signatures smart cards.
s. Identify measures for suitable protection of data during filling up, transmission and against alterations by using combination of security measures.
t. Launch the 25% target of Electronically Governance widely and enabled suitable milestones and makers to monitor them.
u. Establish Industry Consultative Committees (ICC), Citizen Consultative Committees (CCC) and Ministries Consultative Committees (MCC) to provide a forum to various users and implementation groups and organizations to contribute towards the 25% goal and beyond. These committees could discuss
i. Exchange of information and views on the direction of the Governments IT strategy, opportunities for a whole of Government approach, and emerging trends in the industry.
ii. Identify key issues associated with electronic service delivery, including generic areas for possible partnership working which can be considered by CITU in conjunction with departments and agencies
iii. Discuss the possible strategic and policy framework, which would guide Government to develop service delivery in an integrated manner.
v. Development of existing Facilitation Centers already established in various departments as One Stop Shop (OSS) giving One Click (OCL) to all information required by the citizen through convergent use of linking, programme & multiple data entry mechanism.
w. Coordinate activities of Information Technology-Citizen Interface set up by the National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development, as also the High Powered Committee on Improving Efficiency in Government through use of IT under the Chairmanship of Principal Secretary or Cabinet Secretary.
x. Establish Government Information Services (GIS) and facilitate the setting up of National Information Infrastructure incorporating links with GlS on one hand and State Information Infrastructure, District Information Infrastructure, Local Information Infrastructure (LII) and other networking systems on the other, so as to enable Seamless transfer of information multilaterally between users and provides of information and services.
y. Enable ministries in Government of Bangladesh to formulate scheme for selected activities and possible suitable resources facilitation to encourage the same.
z. Develop harmonious cyber laws/regulatory framework as quickly as possible.