The use of Information and Communication Technology has been playing a vital role in the 21st century due to globalization. The democratic government has declared the “Vision 2021” termed as “Digital Bangladesh” which comprises ensuring people’s democracy and rights, transparency, accountability, establishing justice and ensuring delivery of government services in each door through maximum use of technology-with the ultimate goal to improve the daily lifestyle of general people. Government’s “Digital Bangladesh” includes all classes of people and does not discriminate people in terms of technology. Hence, government have emphasized on the four elements of “Digital Bangladesh Vision” which are human resource development, people involvement, civil services and use of Information Technology in business.
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The only success of the government lies in mobile telecommunication, which has brought a huge change in telecommunication scenario of the country. Building a strong ICT infrastructure is a pre-requisite for making Bangladesh a digital society. The leaders of our country objectively have to guide the young generation who looks forward, and can help bring about positive changes in the society.
The questions surrounding Digital Bangladesh are real and often politically sensitive. Should the government implement a mid-day meal program to attract students or pay for a computer in a school (a Tk. 20,000 computer can feed 15 students for a year!)? Should the government build a new bridge or computerize the Roads and Highways Department?
When resources are severely limited, these are valid and difficult questions. Over the last few decades, the world has been shifting from industrial to knowledge-based societies, where proficiency in creating and disseminating knowledge has been an increasingly predominant factor for national growth.
The phenomenon is well reflected through the shift in national goals of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamed declared that Malaysia would become a fully industrialized country by 2020. However, over the next decade, the national Vision 2020 was updated to reflect Malaysia’s aim to become a “knowledge society” rather than a fully industrialized nation.
The concept of Digital Bangladesh should be centered around the creation of knowledge-based society where Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are a critical component for building this knowledge-society. So, Digital Bangladesh, in that sense, is the crucial platform, the enabler for such a vision.
Electronic government initiatives
The Government has taken many initiatives for developing the country to make knowledge based society through Information and Communication Technology.
In Mobile Sector
Bill payment through mobile, port automation, e-centre, introducing e-governance (partially), establishing computer labs in 128 educational institutions, getting public examination results through short message service (SMS) and introducing university admission process through SMS are some other significant moves taken by the government in its first year.
In Bangladesh Bank
Bangladesh Bank, being the monetary authority of the country, is at the forefront of government’s firm commitment to be digitized. We have already formulated a 5-year strategic plan for the financial sector based on advanced technological applications to deliver services with utmost efficiency. The ultimate goal is to make Bangladesh Bank a world class Central Bank with high applications of technologies. This should, in fact, transform itself into a paperless organization within this plan period .
Bangladesh Bank has achieved a historic milestone in trade and business arena, departing from conventional banking with the introduction of e-commerce recently; a giant stride towards digital Bangladesh. Banks have been allowed to make online money transactions; payment of utility bills through internet, transfer of funds (account to account), payments for trading goods and services, and facilitate online credit card payments in local currency. Indeed, the electronic payments will be considered as cash transactions, which will be regulated under the ‘Anti-Money laundering Act’ as well as other relevant rules and regulations. A national payment gateway, connecting all banks for inter-bank transactions (ebanking) is expected to be established soon. Electronic Fund Transfer will also be possible in near future .
Installation of ‘Bangladesh Automated Clearing House (BACH)’ is another remarkable event in the history of financial sector in Bangladesh; will ease the remittance channel and payment system, and therefore, bring dynamism in business activities. The system has been started in early November 2009 on experimental basis, participated by some well prepared banks; will be inaugurated formally soon. Applying sophisticated technological method, the system needs only images and corresponding information of the submitted cheque leaves instead of physical one; will send them to the BACPS ( Bangladesh Automated Cheque Processing System) using a secured communication link. New cheques/clearing instruments (standardized) will contain Magnetic Ink Character Recognition (MICR) line that encompasses information regarding the amount, transaction code, clients account details, routing number (numeric code assigned to bank branches for easy identification of origin and destination of the instrument), cheque leaf’s serial number and so on. The system will support both intra-regional and inter-regional clearings based on a centralized processing centre in Dhaka and designated clearing regions; conforms to the international best practices, cost effective solution for cheque processing .
Therefore, after getting customers’ cheques for collection in the bank-branch, collecting banks will check the prima facie information of the submitted cheques, capture images and information, and send them to BACPS electronically. BACPS will then process and send the images and information to the paying banks for validation. Paying banks will examine the pertinent images and information, and send back to the BACPS for payment (further examination if any inconsistency like fund insufficiency or mismatch of signature etc.) Then BACPS will accumulate all the information; workout a single net amount for each bank, and send back to the collecting banks. As such, cheque clearing time is expected to be turned down to a single day for countrywide payment. In other cases, this will be a matter of couple of hours only. Disaster centre for retrieving data .
In submarine cable
The government has already taken initiatives to connect Bangladesh with the second Submarine Cable Network to have secured connectivity with the information superhighway.
The latest statistics (ITU 2007) revealed that internet penetration is only 0.3% in Bangladesh, whereas the rate is 7.3 and 5.3% respectively in India and Pakistan .
In E -commerce
BB has achieved a historic milestone in the trade and business arena, departing from conventional banking with the introduction of e-commerce recently; a giant stride towards digital Bangladesh. Banks have been allowed to make online money transactions, payment of utility bills through internet, transfer of funds (account to account), payments for trading goods and services, and facilitate online credit card payments in local currency.
In ICT policy
The government passed the national ICT policy with guidance from the access to information program of the Prime Minister’s Office . Under this policy, 306 work plans have been drawn up with a specific time frame. At the end of 2009, within the scope of this plan, the short-term projects were achieved. Among these projects, services like utility bill payment using mobile phone in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Pabna, Cox’s Bazar and the Hill Tracts, finding out the timetable, fare, seat availability of trains, and receiving advance warning of disasters via mobile phone are already available. DCs and upazila nirbahi officers have been trained and connected via laptops and internet.
The government has taken initiatives to promote ICT among all spheres of people, including the hard-to-reach areas; tax and duty cut on computers, promoting ISP services etc.
Prof Jamilur Reza Chowdhury said” I believe the target of digital Bangladesh would be achieved if the recommendations of the policy to be implemented properly”. Prof Dr Mohammad Sabdar Ali said the present government has taken four development projects worth Taka 92.2 crore in the university in line with its endeavor to build digital Bangladesh .
At the beginning of 2010, the government gave the license to a company to create a fiber optic network around the country. ISPs have been given IP telephone licenses in order to make telecommunication services more affordable. To increase countrywide internet services via submarine cable, internet bandwidth price has been reduced by 33%. The number of mobile internet users is estimated to have risen by 30% in the past six months. There are now 5 million internet users in the country, and 4.6 million among them access it using mobile phone .
The development of the electoral roll and national ID card has saved the country from monetary loss, and created an opportunity for earning foreign exchange through export of similar service.
In 2009 SSC and HSC results were made available via mobile and internet, and were also emailed to the educational institutions. The work for providing laptop and internet connectivity was started in various schools and colleges. Using the data from the education boards, Shahjalal University completed its admission registration process via mobile phone-based applications. For the first time, results of medical college exams and primary exams were available through sms.
To make high speed internet more affordable for students of Shahjalal University and Dhaka University, special free wi-fi zones have been created. To ensure timely availability of textbooks to students, they have been published online. The science and ICT ministry has not only set up computer labs in 128 schools in 64 districts, but has also appointed IT professionals there.
The country’s 800 health centres have been given internet and mobile connectivity. Several telemedicine centres have been built. Along with mobile health services by the private sector, upazila health complexes have started offering similar services. To ensure equal access to technology for all, the government is setting up community e-centres/ tele-centres all across the country — there are more than 2,300 of them now. The Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms has digitalised its registration process.
Machine Readable Passport
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday (3rd June, 2010) launched the much – desired Machine Readable Passport (MRP) and Machine Readable Visa (MRV) taking the country a step forward towards Digital Bangladesh.
“From today we have entered into the digital era and the country’s passport and visa system has been raised to international standard with the introduction of MRP and MRV,” she said while inaugurating the MRP and MRV at the Osmani Memorial Hall here.
Besides the government initiatives, various private initiatives have started to bloom as well. “Digital festivals” and “IT festivals” have been held in various parts of the country. Even as remote a place like Bagerhat organized a knowledge festival. BCS (Bangladesh Computer Samity), BASIS (Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services) and Bangladesh Open Source Network took active part in these festivals, which have increased people’s interest towards computers.
IDENTIFICATION OF CRITICAL FACTORS AND WHAT TO DO
Current situation of the E-governance
Although there are many good initiatives like these, these are ok. Among the disappointments, the most important non-starter has been the automation process of Chittagong Custom House, even though the work had been completed and the finance minister had inaugurated it. VoIP has not been properly liberalized and the long distance telecommunication policy has not been modified even after initiatives were taken to do so. Neither has the work been started for the backbone network of the secretariat. Work on the government’s own network, “banglagov.net,” has not resumed. Neither has the work for a centre of information and statistics. The major development perhaps is the coming forward of the ministry of ICT to take a more proactive coordinating role in this sector. It’s a worthy step towards the institutionalization of democracy in our country .
The initiatives to make post office be automated and connect Bangladesh with at least three more submarine cables, e-governance, e-commerce, massive broadband access and e-parliament are expected to get shape by 2010.
Habibullah N Karim, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), found disappointing things during the period.
There is no meeting of National ICT taskforce, which is headed by prime minister.
There is severe lack of coordination in planning side.
“The government should disclose IT centric plans in the first year so that everyone can understand what actually is going to happen under the digital Bangladesh campaign,” said Karim .
Experts say that government websites, launched 10 years ago as part of the e-governance initiative, were intended to make it easier for citizens to interact with public agencies. It meant no longer wait in queues in government offices to make complaints, pay bills or apply for special programmers. Instead, the websites are merely Windows dressing, say experts.
“Most of the websites are there just to be there,” said Mustafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Computer Samity, a national coalition of technology-based organizations. “They do not do anything to help the people or organizations” .
He said most sites simply list the names of department officials, messages from directors and historical information that sometimes requires scrolling through numerous screens.
In January, Badda resident Ali Akbar heard that anyone could download textbooks from the National Curriculum and Text Board website. He decided to download and print some out for his eight-year-old housemaid Khuku, he said,” I went to the website to download the books and the page was not there,” and added, “I kept checking back for the next three days and still found it not working. It got me frustrated so I gave in, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing later” .
A 2010 United Nations survey showed Bangladesh had improved its e-government but still ranked 134 out of 184 countries. That was above Pakistan, but below the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India. The ranking was based on criteria such as the presence of web pages, information on public policy and whether citizens could give immediate feedback .
Government officials admit their websites are unattractive, clunky and a flop among citizens. They blame the lack of techno-savvy people to look after the websites, which require at least half an hour a day to update and maintain. So the task falls to administrators who work on the home pages in addition to their official duties.
The result is that many websites are lagging behind. When the nation was on a swine flu alert last August, a review showed the websites for the health ministry and other government offices carried nothing on the scare.
Even for more mundane matters–paying taxes or making an appointment to get a car fitness certificate–government websites fall far short, say experts. The portals for the 64 districts launched in January are not interactive, and mostly contain a collection of barebones information .
Many of the websites are also not available in Bangla, making them nearly useless to the bulk of the population.
“The government needs to realize when they are providing content for the general people,” said Jabbar, adding, “They need to do it in the language of the general people. They need to post contents for 150 million people, not just the five or six lakh who use Internet.”
But even the five or six lakh (Six hundred thousand) regular Internet surfers may find the cyber waves to be choppy. The website of the Ministry of Chittagong Hills Tracts Affairs, for one, has been dead for some time now .
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 exist between the cities and rural areas, between the rich and the poor, and between the educated and uneducated.
Under the Ministry of Health there are medical universities, colleges and hospitals in big cities. In addition, there are a large number of rural hospitals/clinics/healthcare service centers at district, upazila, and thana levels. However, most of these hospitals and clinics are not well equipped and their services are not of desirable quality. The number of qualified doctors and nurses is much less than required. Nor do they have required type of diagnostic equipment and operating theatres. Reportedly, the available facilities and medicines are often misused.
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 .
What to do?
The Government should formulate short time, midterm & long term planning for the digitalization process. What is the view of Digital Bangladesh? It should be cleared. 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. The Govt. will start digitalizing service delivery organs like Police, City corporation, Land Department, Tax Department, PDB (Power Development Board), 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 (National Board of Revenue), PSC (Public Service Commission), UGC (University Grant Commission), EC (Election Commission), ACC (Anti Corruption Commission) and other vital institution to go a step ahead towards Good Governance .
Digital Bangladesh 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 Governance.
However we have to keep in mind the following assumptions:
Bringing 17 core citizens (approx) on the information high way will not be easy.
Bringing whole public sector under a network will not be easy.
Bringing economic units of private sector under a common platform will not be easy.
To make Digital Bangladesh through E-Governance we need to consider the following critical factors:
The Political Commitment
All the political parties of Bangladesh must be committed to make a digital Bangladesh. Our government must take proactive steps to reach the technology to rural citizens so that the access of information might become very easier to the grass root levels citizens.
A broadband infrastructure is needed with access for all Bangladeshis from their homes, work places, schools and tele-centres with Wimax and 3G network. We also need a digitally literate population and workforce, digital business development, and a legal framework that assures freedom of expression while protecting the rights of creators and innovators towards building an indigenous knowledge and technological base.
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Building a strong ICT infrastructure is a pre-requisite for making Bangladesh a digital society . Hafiz Siddiqi is the vice-Chancellor of one of the largest private universities in Dhaka. He considers “digital Bangladesh” to be an extremely ambitious plan – and one with immense potential. For the first time, there will be an easy flow of information between ministries, administrative offices at district levels, right down to the village .
To make this infrastructure the Govt. should take the following initiatives
The Govt. has to implement the TNT (Telephone and Telegraph) line up to each village so that ICT might reach at the door step of the villagers.
The internet connectivity should be free so that the citizens can access easily and can understand its necessity first. After then the people can access it giving charge implemented by the Govt.
An important step is to improve connectivity. With a PC density of 2.9 per 1,000 populations and a tele-density of 32 fixed lines per 1,000 populations , 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. 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, the govt. should
Reduce the cost of taking PC.
Reduce the tariff levels of ICT equipment and accessories to bring even a bigger population under Internet coverage.
Connect the rural people by using wireless access.
Set up Talent Managerial
For sustainable DB with 3G technology in 12 years the Govt. needs strong commitment and strategic planning. The beginning must concentrate on the development of infrastructure in terms of hardware, software and manpower. The project presupposes that Bangladesh will be able to build its technical and managerial capacity to design the necessary digital network system, procure and install all the equipment properly, and to educate, train and deploy necessary personnel to operate and maintain the nationwide ICT network.
We must have the local experts to control the system of digital Bangladesh. To install the DB we need foreign help but to maintain its sustainability we must need local experts. So the Govt. must take initiative to promote of Science and Technology and management education.. So,
The Govt. must install a separate plan to produce sufficient number of scientists, computer and communication engineers, software engineers, technology management experts, etc.
The Govt. needs to make a separate university for the fulfillment of such vision.
DB visualizes that by 2021 all universities, colleges, high schools, primary schools, and madrashas (Islamic School) will have computerized connectivity. ICT is intended to be used as teaching-learning aids. After five years of schooling all students should have regular access to computers with internet facilities. The goal is to improve the quality of education. By 2021 the entire education sector should be digitized with third generation wireless technology.
Distance education has tremendous potential to spread learning in any country. This is especially important considering that around 80% of our illiterate populations are from the rural areas.
So it is necessary 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 National University .
The Govt. should implement the following steps:
Every university private or public must have the website containing its latest information so that UGC can access and monitor easily.
All the University of Science and technology and university of Engineering Technology will take one admission test trough which any student can take admission in the university like medical college.
Every student should find the facility to take admission, make registration by internet.
All schools, colleges and madrashas must have the website with their latest information so that the education boards can access these websites and monitor the institutions electronically.
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 .
By this way decisions can be implemented very quickly. This will ease out management problems. Because the entire information and data set will flow back and forth electronically they will be relatively more transparent and in turn the probability of indulgence in corruption will decrease.
The Govt. should implement Video conference systems between doctors in major clinics.
The Govt. should take initiatives to recruit doctors with TNT line through which from the remotest corner of the country the villagers can take serve through Massage or call.
The Govt. should encourage other mobile companies so that they must implement it cheapest rate.
To make Digital Bangladesh the Govt. have to develop the private sector for efficiency and reduction of corruption and citizen harassment, in areas such as railway ticketing, tracking of Hajis (pilgrims) etc. Services such as utility billing should be outsourced to the private sector. The ICT sector has to be utilized for efficiency in domestic organizations, particularly the government, which will ultimately lead to better services for citizens.
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 technology.
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 agriculture.
Fig 3.1: E-Agriculture
The above solution is proposed by  named ‘E-Agriculture’ to show how a farmer will be benefited from digital Bangladesh.
The villages are situated at a long distance from the digital society; scholars, professors, face book users. There are about 80% of citizens live in village where students are not well dress up, have no money to take Tiffin, the teachers are often bare footed is a elderly bearded wearing a purple and white hat, have a stick to manage his students. In many villages there exists no electricity, no clean drinking water, and no computer in school. So to make digital Bangladesh we must develop the rural people of Bangladesh.
For the developing the village sectors through ICT the Govt. have to reach the electricity as well as the internet connection by reaching the TNT line to all the villages of Bangladesh.
The schools, Hospitals and Union board must be brought under the internet connections.
The villagers should have the opportunity to communicate with the Govt. electronically.
The Garments Factories
About 79.1% income of export has come from readymade garments in 2008-2009 amounted 67257.1 core taka. To make digital Bangladesh we must digitize the garments factories for the connection with government digitally. By this way the Govt. can take care of the garments factories which will be the best source of revenue . The Govt. must take necessary steps to implement the followings
Every Garments factory must have a website where there will have the list of all employees with their status and salaries.
There will have a linkage between the Got, and the Garments factories through which the Govt. can monitor these factories.
The Govt. can make pressure to the Authorities of the Garments factories so that the living standard of the employees of garments factories must increase by increasing their salary and other facilities.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) should introduce video conferencing in the administration level so that the prime minister can talk to officials at district and upazila levels through it. The mass people must have opportunity to share views with the government officials’ electronically.
The Greener Bangladesh
To make DB, Bangladesh should turn into a greener country which will change our climate into a better position. So engineers should play their role for a greener energy based digital Bangladesh.
To make green Bangladesh quickly, the Govt. can make awareness of the green environment through TV and teleconferencing in such a way that if we transfer the country into a greener country through tree plantation then the country will be save from natural calamities quickly.
The Govt. can encourage all the mobile companies for marking the people to be aware of green environment through SMS.
All the offices government and private should be paperless. The offices should be automated through network. The officers should use digital signature.
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