Thursday, June 13, 2024

Digital innovation fair: An assessment

Habibullah N Karim
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on March 4 inaugurated the first-ever government sponsored ICT fair of the country at Bangabandhu Novo Theatre complex in Dhaka.
The country has had many ICT fairs since the late eighties but those are all sponsored and organised by the private sector. The Digital Innovation Fair is the first by the government, of the government and for the government — mostly.
Since taking the reins of the government in January last year, the AL-led coalition has been vigorously advocating the virtues of going digital. The vision of ‘Digital Bangladesh by the year 2021’ was the cornerstone of the AL election manifesto and has been a guiding principle of the present government from day one. Along the path of achieving a digital Bangladesh, the government has been pro-actively promoting the use of ICT in lowering the cost and time required to deliver government services to citizens and at the same time increase transparency, accountability and overall effectiveness of governmental service delivery mechanisms.
The Digital Innovation Fair was organised by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in collaboration with the Ministry of Science & ICT. The principal driver has been the Access To Information (A2I) project at the PMO, funded by the UNDP.
The main objective was to showcase governmental initiatives and projects on the use of ICT in various ministries, departments and state-owned corporations. Almost all ministries and state bodies had stalls at the three-day long exhibition displaying all kinds of digital work processes and citizen services as well as handing out self-explanatory brochures on the ICT-based services provided by each.
The whole fair premises had a very festive and colourful ambience about it which is all the more amazing when one realises that that it was organised and manned fully by government functionaries.
On the opening day, as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went round the stalls after the inaugural programme, one could see ministers and secretaries jostling for the attention of the head of the government as they pleaded with her like excited youngsters to visit their respective stalls and when succeeded proffered animated explications of their respective ministry’s ICT projects.
The few private sector representatives on hand watched all this with amazement and great joy. Here are all these captains of the government that the private sector have been chasing for decades to get them (government leaders) to listen to their (private sector) pleas to open up their (government leaders) minds and coffers to the use of ICT to bring efficiency, transparency and accountability and now the same public officials were singing those tunes without any provocation.
I consider this a sea-change in the mindset of the public office holders that will certainly bring good tidings for the people in the coming days. This was unmistakably the result of constant prodding by the AL government’s think-tanks on the adoption of ICT in line with their ‘Digital Bangladesh’ agenda.
One could easily discern there was a sense of competition among the government offices to outdo each other in proving who is the most ICT-savvy. That is certainly very healthy as it will usher in more and more citizen services being proffered on the ICT platform at higher speeds and lower costs without discriminating between the poor or the rich.
One could see the Election Commission demonstrating the electronic voting machine and the new-fangled uses of the voter/national ID cards or the commerce ministry displaying the online portal for the submission of company’s annual returns or the Survey of Bangladesh displaying GPS mappers and loggers that can accurately create digital maps with millimeter level accuracy with permanent geo-referencing. The Dhaka Electric Supply Authority also exhibited their customer complaints resolution system with live phone complaints being played back for all to hear.
It was also interesting to find the cabinet division excitedly showing off the recently-launched district administration offices’ web sites providing real-time linkages to the cabinet division for reporting and monitoring or the home ministry flaunting their latest live digital video streaming of key city points to monitor law-and-order.
There was hardly any space to walk as hundreds of people thronged the Novo Theatre to catch a glimpse of the digital lifestyle there are about to be submerged in.
There is already talk of making the Digital Innovation Fair an annual event as well as holding similar events throughout the country whereby people everywhere will be able to see and gauge the progress of different government offices in the adoption of ICT.
The six seminars organised concurrently on various policy matters related to materialising the digital Bangladesh vision had capacity crowds comprising of high government officials as well as people of all walks of life. On the whole the fair proved that the government is abuzz with ICT programmes and that ICT is no longer just a buzz-word when it comes to harnessing its potential to empower citizens in all its splendour.

The writer is the founder CEO of Technohaven Company Limited and is the current president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS). He can be reached at hnkarim@gmail.com.

Original article on The Daily Star

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