12-18 April 2013 #651

Cleaning out our cabinets

Nepal has a long way to go before it can be electronically governed
Puja Tandon
A young man from Darchula travels to the capital to make his passport. After a three-day bus ride, he has to wait in line for hours before he can even enter the passport office in Narayanhiti. Not to mention the hours he will spend trying to find his way through Nepal’s notorious bureaucratic maze. Now imagine if there was an office in the district headquarters connected to a national digital database, the same task could be completed within an hour or two, helping save the man (and the state) his money and energy.

E-governance or digital governance is not a new concept in the west. States have been using technology to provide public services and information 24 hours a day in an efficient and transparent manner. Submitting documents, paying bills, taxes, filing tax returns can all be done online, substantially reducing the time and cost involved. Most importantly, e-governance vastly improves access to state services. It also leads to standardisation of services, enhanced transparency, and accountability.

India began computerising its data and records in the seventies. The National e-Governance Plan intended to ensure access to all state services through electronic media is being implemented aggressively. In Pakistan the prime ministerial secretariat has been automated with applications for Hajj and even salaries for government officers processed online. Even countries like Ghana and Sierra Leone in west Africa have set up new electronic technologies and systems. Although the Nepali government created a master plan for e-governance in 2006, transition to the new system has moved at a snail’s pace and ubiquitous filing cabinets and grey folders are still a very common sight. The potential remains largely untapped.

Nepal looses millions every time there is a banda. Electronic service delivery could compensate for this loss to some extent and provide relief to common citizens and businesses. Such technology will become indispensable as Nepal gradually transitions into a federal set up and will help facilitate better coordination between provincial governments and the central government. Furthermore, to make Nepal more conducive for investments from abroad, foreign investment procedures could be delinked with visa processes for investors and their technical staff.

Going electronic, however, requires major improvements in IT infrastructure (like latest computers, well-equipped data centres, fast and reliable internet connection) and a qualified labour force to set up and run the system. Overall development in terms of electricity supply, improved road networks, and a population which has basic e-knowledge is also crucial.

However, more than physical infrastructure, transforming the habits and makeup of the current bureaucracy will perhaps be the biggest challenge for Nepal. Government officials will most likely resist change because it will close many of the existing loopholes that make corruption and tardiness an epidemic in the country.

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