Striving for a Digital Bangladesh

প্রকাশিত: ২:৫৯ অপরাহ্ণ, জুন ২৯, ২০২১

Striving for a Digital Bangladesh

Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed

Published on 12 December 2008, the Awami League’ selection manifesto –‘Charter for Change’ –had pledged to establish a Digital Bangladesh by the year 2021, coinciding with the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s independence. This Vision-2021 charter contained the aspiration of becoming a middle-income country, a prosperous digital society, skilled population suitable for the digital age with transformed system of production, a knowledge-based economy, and overall – a knowledge-based society. The Awami League government has remained committed to the establishment of a Digital Bangladesh since its2008 electoral triumph and subsequent assumption of office in January 2009.

Digital Bangladesh has been defined as “a happy, prosperous, educated population free from discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger – a people’s state whose driving force is the digital technology”. It encompasses the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the people of Bangladesh and is a vision for materialising the dreams of independence. It commits to transforming Bangladesh from a least developed or poor country to a technologically-advanced middle-income nation within 2021.

The objectives of a Digital Bangladesh included improving the underdeveloped lifestyle of the citizenry phase by phase and transforming Bangladesh society gradually into a knowledge-based one. In effect, it aimed to convert into digital mode all undertakings at all levels of society including people’s lifestyle, education, health management, work procedure, industries, trade and commerce, production, economy, culture and governance. The main theme in the philosophy of Digital Bangladesh has been to ensure the empowerment of people and uphold transparency and accountability through optimum utilisation of information and communication technology (ICT).

Creation of appropriate infrastructure has also been a priority for establishing Digital Bangladesh. All households in the country ought to have uninterrupted power supply, and remain interconnected through digital networks comprising cables or wireless technology. Apart from equipping people living in all regions of the country with digital tools, removal of digital divide has also been considered a national priority.

Alongside setting up linkages among people as well as between the government and the citizens, priority has been attached to digital transformation of governance, grooming of suitable manpower fit for a digital society, and development of education, agriculture, industries and business sectors through proper application of information technology (IT).With these objectives in mind, the government has been striving to digitalise its work processes and outputs, and reach IT-Enabled-Services (ITES) to the doorsteps of the common people by establishing e-governance. The effort consisted of digitalisation of all activities of governance including education, land administration, judiciary, healthcare, security, and defence systems.

Rebranded as ‘Aspire to Innovate’ from the previous ‘Access to Information, and backed by the UNDP, the a2i programme of the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) has been contributing significantly towards achieving a Digital Bangladesh through introduction of a citizen-centric culture of transparency and innovation in Bangladesh Civil Service, in order to make public services more inclusive, affordable, reliable and easier to access. The programme supports a whole-of-society approach for introducing sustainable solutions to existing problems at societal and individual levels. It has been proactively contributing to the Digital Bangladesh agenda through digitalisation and simplification of public service delivery, especially in the rural areas, and strengthening good governance, accountability and transparency in line with Vision-2021, sustainable development goals (SDGs-2030), and Vision-2041. Currently, the three key components of its strategies are: institutionalising public service innovation and accountability; catalysing digital financial services and fin-tech innovations; and incubating private sector-enabled public service innovation.

The a2i programme has already made tremendous impact on Bangladesh economy and society through its multi-pronged initiatives. Digital Centres have been one such initiative, through which 300 services are being provided through 7,600 digital centres established all over the country. Through these centres, citizens in remote rural areas are now able to get services in lesser time and at lower cost. Over 567.50 million units of service have been provided till now through these centres, and more than 15 thousand entrepreneurs, one third of them women, have become self-sufficient. The agent banking services extended by these centres has reached banking to the wider population and allowed citizens to open accounts, send money, save, borrow, and withdraw remittances, social safety allowances, as well as pay various fees etc. Till date, agent banking services have been made available in 4,403 digital centres, and the value of financial transactions completed till now stands at Taka 171.84 billion.

Allowances under the Social Safety Net Program are now being distributed through the G2P (Government to People) Platform of a2i by using the National Identity Cards (NIDs). The system delivers financial and other assistances to the poor and disadvantaged people across the country. So far, 3.7 million citizens have been included in this platform and Taka 1.94 billion has been digitally delivered to the poor and disadvantaged people through G2P. There is also a National Portal, which is a web-portal given shape by incorporating the websites of over 51,500 government websites including that of ministries and divisions. It has been designed to bring all government services under one platform. Till date, 657 e-services and over 8.80 million thematic contents have been incorporated in the portal. Besides, an online office management system called ‘E-Nothi’ has been introduced for handling official documents electronically. It is currently being used by over 100 thousand officials at more than 8 thousand offices, thereby bringing dynamism, transparency, accountability and efficiency in the workings of these entities. Over 15.1 million files have been disposed till now by using this system.

The National Helpline (333) was launched by the a2i programme for enabling citizens to access needed information and services incorporated in the National Portal through mobile phones. It allows citizens to seek help from all field-level officials to solve their problems. The helpline has been contacted 28.15 million times till now and as many as 21,700 problems have been resolved. During the time of Covid-19 pandemic, the helpline has been repurposed for extending services like Corona Information, Telemedicine Services, Food Assistance for the Disadvantaged, Self Corona-Testing, etc. The e-commerce platform ‘Ek Shop’ has been pressed into service for delivering daily necessities to the doorsteps of the rural people through the helpline ‘333-5’. Currently, 6,189 rural artisans are selling products through this platform by catering to the needs of over 7.4 million users.

Another innovative platform of the programme is ‘Muktopaath’, which is now the largest Bangla language e-learning platform containing content on general, technical and vocational education. So far, over 1.1 million students have enrolled in 198 courses, and 956 thousand students have been awarded certificates. It is also used by government organizations to provide online training to employees. Besides, the Muktopath app has been developed to make online courses accessible to citizens through mobile phones. Students using the app now number 200 thousand. The educational platform ‘Konnect’ has also been designed to boost creativity and intellectual growth of teenagers as well as deliver healthy entertainment to them. Over 2.77 million students are now connected through this platform and engaged in learning from over 31 thousand educational contents. Another education platform called ‘Teachers’ Portal’ has been launched for enhancing the professional skills of teachers. It has audio-visual contents and documents on various subjects that assist them in teaching at multimedia classrooms. About 569 thousand members are now registered in this portal.

E-mutation, inheritance calculator and digital land record room have also been introduced under the program to reduce the hassles faced by common people with regard to land-related services. The E-Mutation management system has been launched to provide services electronically at shorter time and lower cost, and improve overall efficiency and transparency in service delivery. On the other hand, the ‘Amar Sarkar’ or ‘My Gov’ app has been created with the goal of incorporating all public services in a single app. It also allows users to directly call 999 – Bangladesh’s national emergency helpline, in addition to 333. The app has so far integrated 421 services through linkages with 8,158 government offices. Till now, the system has been used by 3.23 million citizens, and 2.26 million applications for services have been received by it.

The integrated bill payment platform ‘eKpay’ has been launched by incorporating multiple service providers and all payment channels to facilitate the payment of service bills and fees under a single window. It has benefitted over 1.52 million citizens till now through partnerships with 10 financial service providers. The Digital Service Design Lab has been initiated under the programme for identifying potential government services while creating an integrated platform for all government e-services. Simplification and conversion of 1,152 services have been completed under it till now. I-Lab or Innovation Lab has also been initiated with the objective of generating service solutions and opportunities that are faster, scalable, and easy to use, by leveraging technology. Innovation hubs have been created in 138 universities under it for crafting viable solutions to citizen-centric issues. Currently, 93 projects are being run in the Innovation Lab, while 130 have been successfully completed.

The concept of a Digital Bangladesh has unbundled the immense potentials of the country and is acting as a beacon of hope in the nation’s journey towards becoming an upper middle-income state. A consensus should therefore be forged for the purpose among all stakeholders, and concerted efforts should be made with firm determination and unwavering commitment to make Bangladesh an e-governed and e-literate country, an attractive destination for ICT-based businesses, and a depository of ICT-skilled human resource. At the same time, initiatives should be undertaken for minimising the digital divide that exists between various segments of society.

 

Writer : retired Additional Secretary and former Editor of Bangladesh Quarterly.

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