The government has begun implementing the ICT flagship programme, Digital Drukyul, which will transform public service delivery and digitally empower citizens.
The programme is in line with His Majesty The King’s vision to use technology in addressing issues in healthcare, education and agriculture to improve governance and democracy, create jobs, enhance wellbeing, make the cities safer and cleaner, and bring overall benefit to the citizens of Bhutan.
According to officials from the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) of the information and communications ministry, the Digital Drukyul flagship programme will create a digital ecosystem for citizens unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape, and allow quick and equal access to all services.
Under the Digital Drukyul initiative, Bhutanese will be provided a digital identity that can be used to access multiple online government services such as healthcare and others.
An enhancement of the current physical identity, the numeric digital ID, unique to every citizen, would have access to all relevant digitised data of an individual held by various different organisations.
Unlike in the current practice where citizens have to hop from agency to agency collecting various documents, Digital Drukyul will provide a one-stop-shop for all the government to citizen (G2C) services.
An end-to-end integrated online system with a single window access would be enabled. Services like availing business licences and customs-trade approvals would be made online where the individuals have to only produce their digital ID.
DITT’s head of application division, Lobzang Jamtsho, said that this would mean that people would not longer have to gather clearances and documents from various sectors manually.
“All other requirements like security clearance for passport processing will be taken care by the back-end system,” he said. “The individual has to just show their digital ID.”
Citizens can apply for any kinds of services from anywhere using the digital ID, similar to a no-wrong-door concept. “The ease of doing business is expected to increase significantly as a result of improvement service delivery,” he said.
A major initiative under the programme would focus on improving the quality of healthcare through the implementation of an electronic patient information system (e-PIS) in all hospitals down to the district level.
This system will keep records of all treatments and medical histories of individual patients. It is expected to improve access to quality data, generate evidence-based medical interventions and decision making.
DITT’s chief ICT officer, Sonam Phuntsho, said that in addition, more than 1000 government offices, schools, Basic Health Units would be connected to reliable information systems and infrastructure under the programme.
The programme also prioritises education, and under the digital school programme, a resource management system along with online teaching and learning platform will be established. The programme will include digital pedagogy for the development of teacher’s capacity.
About 8,500 individuals would receive training on the use of the technologies.
Local government leaders will help identify individuals to spread awareness to a larger audience especially in the rural pockets of the country. Some 300 information technology professionals will be certified in the next five years.
Sonam Phuntsho said that efforts to create an internal redundancy for network is also underway with the construction of five strategic rings across the country.
Currently the internet optic fibres run in a linear path. During times of breakdown along the fibres, the other side of the broken fibre is completely cutoff. “Internet traffic can be rerouted in case the fibre is cut once the strategic rings are formed.”
Of the five rings, the Trongsa-Wangdue ring has been completed. Works to complete the Sandrupjongkhar-Trashigang ring is underway while Trongsa-Bumthang, Bumthang-Mongar/Lhuntse and Haa-Lamoizingkha rings will be completed soon, Sonam Phuntsho said.
Work on the digital programme started towards the end of the 11th Plan. A total of Nu 2.5 billion has been earmarked for the flagship programme in the 12th Plan.
Telecommunications in Bhutan were first introduced in 1963. Print media followed two years later and radio in 1973. In the late 1990s, television broadcasting and the internet were introduced.
Since then, ICT has made rapid advancement in the country. Mobile subscriptions increased from 0.4 per 100 people in 2003 to 96 in 2019. The proportion of people using the internet have increased from 0.1% in 1999 to 93% in 2019.
Today the number of mobile subscribers stands at 715,872 of which 694,249 subscribers are mobile broadband (3G and 4G) users.