A Prime ministers
dream Vs Understanding the Present
by Prof. Syed Ahsanul Alam,Chairman-Center for good
governance, University of
Ironical to note that the term "Digital
Bangladesh" still remains as a misunderstood concept to many. Due to the strong
desire of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina the vision has been accepted with
interest in the Government, private sector and as well as the politician. If I
have not misunderstood Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, by using the term Digital
Bangladesh ------- she emphasized on using ICT in Governance and service
delivery organs both in the public and private sector.
1. Digital Bangladesh for Coping with
The forces of globalization and
technology are continuously reshaping our economy. The impact of information and
communication technology (ICT) are giving rise to a new type of economy
---- the knowledge based economy. Technology has had a crucial role in
defining today's globalized market structure. In this context, Bangladesh Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the first step by declaring her vision towards
"Digital Bangladesh". Despite the fact that, many still consider this to
be the dream of a Prime Minister, while others think the concept is yet vague
for consumption of our mass people, yet I believe Bangladesh can make steady
stride towards digitalization if guided by strategist capable to formulate short
time, midterm & long term planning for the digitalization process. In the
light of our previous lesson learnt the concept of "Digital Bangladesh" must be
understood clearly, practically and pragmatically in the context of a economy
like Bangladesh. It is necessary to mention that in the short run "Digital
Bangladesh" aims at E-Governance and service delivery through utilizing ICT. But
the vision "Digital Bangladesh" encompasses the whole arena of a knowledge based
Digital Economy. Bangladesh can't afford to achieve that goal in the short and
medium run. I invite thinkers, technocrats and IT experts to focus on the short
run issues and measures the present Government should undertake to digitalize
Bangladesh. It is important to start digitalizing service delivery organs like
Police, City corporation, Land Department, Tax Department, PDB, Water supply,
Gas and other authorities also including sectors like Banking, Insurance,
Customs, Tax Collection. Urgent steps should be taken to digitalize institutions
like Bangladesh Bank, NBR, PSC, UGC, EC, ACC and other vital institution to go a
step ahead towards Good Governance.
2. Phasing out the Digitalization
What is important for the planner is
the ability to explore all the possibilities of phasing out a digitalization
process for Bangladesh. We can share the experience of developing &
neighboring countries. India has made giant steps towards acquiring competence
in Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The success story of the
Indian IT industry bears testimony to this. However, technical competence is a
pre requisite for digitalization of Bangladesh economy.
Information technology reduces costs, saves time, improves efficiency, raises
comfort levels and increases the confidence of citizens. Hence, developing
countries such as Bangladesh should leverage the power of IT to leapfrog poverty
barriers, and promote economic and social development. But we have to keep in
mind that technology (ICT) alone won't fix or alleviate economy, nor guarantee
dynamic service delivery to citizens. It is important to understand that ICT
facilities Good Governance but ICT itself don't guarantee Good Governance.
3. Slow Paced IT revolution and the
Even with the slow paced IT revolution
in Bangladesh, around 50% or more of our villages are still without telephones.
75% or more of our population resides in the rural areas and do not have
adequate exposure to technology. A vast majority lives below the poverty line
and 35% or more are illiterate. Like any other developing country a vast
majority of Bangladesh population will be vulnerable to the risk of getting
marginalized in the IT revolution. Logically citizens will be getting divided
into people who do and people who don't have access to ICT and the capability to
use - modern information technology.
This divide exists and shall remain to
exists between the cities and rural areas, between the rich and the poor, and
between the educated and uneducated.
4. Digital Bangladesh - the
Digital Bangladesh does not necessarily
mean one man one computer. For the near future neither does it means Internet
literacy for 100% population. But it indicates towards networking with all
administrative units like, Upazila, Districts and Division. It definitely means
bringing more citizens to the Information Highway- giving a bigger mass of the
population access to information. Digital Bangladesh should be the first step
towards the death of distance particularly for the rural people with the
secretariat or any other powerhouse with whom the citizens are involved for
However we have to keep in mind the
following assumption :
i) Bringing 17 crore citizens (approx)
on the information high way will not be easy.
ii) Bringing whole public
sector under a network will not be easy.
iii) Bringing economic units of
private sector under a common platform will not be easy.
The aim of
Digitalization in the first phase should be :
i) Ensure easier access
to government forms and documents by citizens.
ii) Ensure submission of
applications, forms, and complains electronically.
iii) Ensure greater access
to information by citizen charter and websites.
iv) Ensure University
admission process to be digitalized except the admission test.
greater connectivity by wireless internet.
5. Digitalization Process - Pin
Pointing Priority Sectors
Sustainable progress can be achieved,
only if we bring this vast majority of Bangladesh rural people on the
information highway, and thus, benefit from the increased productivity that
Information and communication technology offers. The anytime-anywhere and death
of- distance paradigms of technology will enable better leveraging of scarce
resources such as healthcare and education, agriculture and other service
To create ownership of digital
Bangladesh by the general public it should focus in promoting the following
ii) Education, ,
iv) Other Service Delivery Organization
To enhance citizens' participation
and promoting accountability , transparency and efficiency in governance
In Bangladesh, 51% of the
population does not have access to essential drugs. Further, there are only 26
physicians per 100,000 population compared to 279 for US and 162 for China. ICT
can help bring medical expertise to Upazilla and District headquarters.
Tele-medicine, for instance may link healthcare centers in remote locations,
through satellites, with super specialty hospitals at major towns / cities. Thus
it can bring connectivity between patients at remote end, with specialist
doctors, for medical consultations and treatment. For example a few Health care
center in Bangladesh uses tele-medicine to bring health-care facilities from
super specialty center abroad.
Distance education has
tremendous potential to spread learning in any country. Elearning is a
cost-effective way of providing education at a distance. This is especially
important considering that around 80% of our illiterate population are from the
In this context, it is essential that the government, the
industry, NGOs and academia forms partnership to accelerate the Digitalization
process. Together, they need to create an 'enabling environment' for the
proliferation of ICT in Bangladesh. There are some basic steps that Bangladesh
needs to foster online education to be offered by Open University and our
Since more than
half of our population is employed in agriculture, our planner should put ICT to
good use in agriculture. For example, India has led the use of remote sensing
satellite information for locating irrigation projects. The Internet has been
effectively used in some of the villages to ensure effective dissemination of
agricultural commodity price information. The National Dairy Development Board
(NDDB) in India has used IT effectively, to enhance competitiveness of the dairy
industry and to provide benefits to the rural masses. Towards digital Bangladesh
we can use the Indian experience of using ICT in different sectors of the
iv) Other Service Delivery
In the public sector, ICT can be used for more efficient
governance. In a developing country like Bangladesh, there is a significant need
for introducing transparency and efficiency in government operations. Through
E-governance, the service delivery organization can effectively deliver their
service to citizens. By separating the delivery of services from
decision-making, the chances of corruption are reduced. Further, E-governance
reduces the time in interactions with the government. For instance,
Internet can be used as a cheap communication channel that governments can use
to reach out to their citizens and vice versa. For instance, citizens can
monitor the progress of various government initiatives online. ICT also enables
effective planning. Simulation can be used as a good tool for what-if analysis.
It helps the citizens understand the parameters of public systems (over a period
of time) like pollution levels, provision of basic infrastructure - schools,
water, electricity, health care, commuting times, etc.
6. Increased Connectivity
An important step is to improve
connectivity. With a PC density of 2.9 per 1,000 population and a tele-density
of 32 fixed lines per 1,000 population, Bangladesh needs to increase penetration
in terms of PCs and communication lines. Connectivity options to the rural areas
can be improved, by using wireless access. In addition, Cyber cafes in the urban
centers and village information kiosks in the rural areas will enhance the IT
access throughout the country.
The high cost of IT equipment accessories
which acts a barrier towards proliferation of IT access needs to be
lowered. Due to high tariff levels, the cost of hardware and software in
Bangladesh is significantly higher as compared to the rest of the world. For
instance, A PC in Bangladesh costs around 12-15 months of average per-capita
income as compared to China's 4 months and USA's 12 days. Hence, we need to
reduce the tariff levels of ICT equipment and accessories to bring even a bigger
population under Internet coverage.
7. Role of Private Sector
Private companies and NGOs can partner,
in order to enhance awareness and utilization of ICT at the grass-roots level.
For instance, NGO's can work to bring elementary computer literacy to the people
of rural Bangladesh. They can make arrangements so that IT professionals and
educators visit rural schools and help students get familiar with
In addition, Bangladesh needs an efficient innovation system of
industry, science and research centers and universities to create new knowledge
and technology. In this regard, we need an effective higher education system
that provides specialized training, education and research.
We may consider to import simputer
without tax from India. Importation of new inventions such as the Simputer can
further reduce costs by providing affordable computing. The Simputer was
developed by scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, and a software
company called Encore. One can get computing facilities at a drastically lower
cost as simputer only cost US$150 per piece compared to US$ 400 for a PC.
Further, it has a local language interface. This is an instance of how the
scientist, academia and industry can collaborate to develop technology to suit a
Bangladesh has a sizeable population without English
literacy. Creating and maintaining locally relevant content in bangla is a
challenge. Nevertheless, Bengali language content will make ICT more relevant
and accessible to a broader cross-section of the population. Hence, we need to
develop applications that support Bengali language. In addition, we need to
develop voice applications that will let Bangladesh rural people to communicate
with ICT tools using the spoken Bangla.
In Bangladesh IT literacy is critical
to ensure that people can derive appropriate benefits from the technology
revolution. However, at a more fundamental level, providing basic IT education
is the first step towards enabling our people to use ICT. Today, only 55% of the
Bangladesh population is literate. Huge subsidies, however, should be given to
IT education and ICT literacy programs and not in higher education. In addition,
higher education must also function in a free-market environment.
9. The Political
Our government must take proactive
steps to take technology to rural citizens. However our dream towards digital
Bangladesh has a long way to go. Digitalization of Bangladesh will depend how
best the Government can leverage the power of ICT to increase the access to
information of its population.
Syed Ahsanul Alam is a
Governance analyst, Professor of Marketing at the University of Chittagong
and Chairman, Center for Good Governance. He is an Internationally reputed
Policy Strategist on Governance. His recent administrative post includes Vice
Rector( IIBT) Premier University, Director, Sadharon Bima Corporation.,
Treasurer. USTC (SWC), Representative of the President,USTC. He lectured widely
at variousUniversities at home and abroad and has numerous International
publication(See Internet) in his credit.The Author may be reached at
Fax : 880-31-2550872, E-mail:[email protected], Web: www.goodgovernancebd.org