Saturday , December 16 2017
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The disconnected

Digital technologies are changing the way we interact with each other. It creates opportunities to deliver more services online, conveniently and faster.

To simplify and enhance delivery of public services, the Government to Citizen (G2C) service was initiated.

Or so the people were told.

Lengthy and unclear bureaucratic procedures still characterise public service delivery in the country. The G2C initiative was expected to take these services closer to the people just as the world was brought closer to Bhutan when it introduced Internet 18 years ago.

While the intent to tap into the opportunities of ICT in enhancing service delivery is good, it was done so on the assumption of reliable Internet service. But we have been riding on a stuttering Internet connectivity that makes services such as the G2C redundant.

A National Council study found that more than one in three community centres that provide G2C services have Internet problem and suffer from system breakdowns. More than 40 percent of the 97 community centre operators reported poor network connectivity as one of the major challenges in delivering services.

Connectivity issues are not new to us. Telecom service providers have been forewarned to improve Internet and cellular connectivity yet the problem persists. The public’s frustration is palpable in social media posts when they are unable to withdraw money from an ATM due to Internet connectivity. When one in three community centres cannot deliver services due to connectivity issue, we have a problem with the service provider.

But instead of focusing on this disservice to the people, what we have seen happening is G2C services being moved from one organisation to another and grand promises made of the prime minister personally monitoring its delivery. From Bhutan Post to the forest department, the service is now with Bhutan Development Bank Ltd.  Should delivery of services not improve, these moves could be construed as political stunts that involve the politicisation of a financial institution, not e-governance.

The satisfaction rate of G2C services , however, indicates the potential of G2C services in delivering service. Efforts need to be made as much on reducing the turn around time because the duration of time taken to deliver a service indicates the efficiency of civil servants. To many, the delay from an agency in processing a request could be the reason for them to avail the service offline. Almost 16 percent of community centre operators reported no approval of services on time by agencies concerned as one of their challenges.

It is hoped that the agencies concerned would address the issues raised in the national council’s study. Besides equipping the community centres with reliable and sustainable infrastructure and human resources, efforts must also be made to improve Internet connectivity in schools.

We harp about using ICT as a pedagogical tool to create a stimulating and empowering classroom learning experience. But education reports show that more than half of the schools, 310, do not have Internet.

It is time we fix this chronic problem with Internet connectivity. Governance is about fixing accountability.

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