E-Government to grassroots | Daily News

E-Government to grassroots

Even as the entire country is fixated on the Local Government Poll slated for February 10, a major development pertaining to local bodies went largely unnoticed. Our local bodies are still deeply traditional and a lot has to be done to take them to the 21st century. This is why the launch of the e-Local Government Network initiative on Tuesday matters. A ceremony in this connection was held with the participation of Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister Faiszer Musthapha, and Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando.

Compared to many of our neighbours, Sri Lanka has an enviable Internet penetration rate, partly thanks to the proliferation of smartphones and mobile broadband devices (dongles). But our private and public institutions have not kept pace with these developments. Granted, there already are online portals for important institutions such as the Department of Immigration and Emigration and the Department of Registration of Persons, which have successfully migrated to online solutions. For example, approved photo studios can directly upload photos of applicants to these institutions. But much more can be done.

Hence the latest move to expand the online presence and scope of the Local Bodies is a welcome move. The facility implemented under the Ministry of Local Government and Provincial Councils and Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure as a joint effort enables the public to make all the payments to the local government bodies through Internet electronic cards. It also has the added benefit of bringing more transparency to Local Government transactions, which will go a long way towards reducing corruption. In fact, speaking at the event Minister Faiszer Musthapha stated that this was a step towards eliminating corruption and malpractices within Local Authorities. There is every chance that voters will opt for younger, professional candidates on February 10, who are likely to be much more honest and dedicated. Moreover, most of them are already familiar with Information Technology applications. This e-Local Government initiative would fit in ideally with their programme and vision. Most development and social welfare projects at grassroots level are carried out through the Local Government bodies. As the Minister mentioned, while ministers exercise their executive authority through the Secretary of the Ministry and while the President exercises his authority through his Secretary, it is finally the Chairman or the Mayor of the Local Government Authority that has to directly carry out this authority and therefore, the political authority has to limit itself to policy decisions. The minister noted that after the new political authority is elected to office, proper decisions would be taken without giving into bureaucracy. Indeed, online transactions will hopefully lead to minimal red tape – we have often seen how people are driven from pillar to post at Government offices including LG bodies to get even a simple matter sorted out.

The Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) has been rendering a yeoman service to expand e-Government services to all areas geographically and subject-wise. Sri Lanka has been able to stay ahead of the curve in the region due to ICTA’s tireless work.

As the e-Government network expands, it is vital to ensure that more people can access the Internet from their homes, offices and public centres. This is where the Nenasala kiosk network comes in. The authorities must ensure that even the remotest village has a centre where villagers can access the World Wide Web.

The other impediment is the language barrier. With 90 percent of the Internet pages available only in English, the villager who speaks only Sinhala or Tamil faces a major disadvantage. Many forms of Government departments can only be filled in English, probably to facilitate machine reading, but a solution has to be found. Most people do not have access to laptop or desktop computers, but almost everyone now has a smartphone. This is indeed how most people browse the web now. There are smartphone apps for everything from fitness to stock market prices. Thus there should be greater focus on creating smartphone apps on iOS and Android platforms in all three languages for various Government departments and local bodies. That will help them engage especially with the younger generation. Since the phone is with them 24/7, local government initiatives will only be a touch away at any time of the day.

The Internet knows no borders – we can actively collaborate with people and institutions in other countries to enhance our development potential. For example, India and Sri Lanka already have a joint programme for improving education in Sri Lankan schools using high speed Internet and other modern facilities. We should initiate more programmes of this nature with other countries as well. After all, we can video conference with an entire classroom on the other side of the world without spending a cent. Such technology must be used effectively to enhance the value of our education system.

Yes, the Internet does have a darker side as we glean from news reports, but the overall benefits are much bigger. We have to use such resources for the uplift of all citizens at grassroots level. 


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