Planning and implementing e-governance requires consideration of whether targeted beneficiaries care for the strategies we develop. Aside from tedious government processes, lack of ownership by government entities is the primary reason for our inability to bring e-governance into smooth operation in Nepal.
That isn’t to say no progress has been made: initiatives such as e-services to all taxpayers by the Inland Revenue Department, interconnection between the IRD and the Office of Company Registrar for registration of companies, online passport applications by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, e-procurement system, the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Citizenship Management System and several other projects are fully operational and successfully providing services to the public.
One particular success story has been that of the telecom sector, with acts and policies that have enabled rapid increase in coverage and usage of fixed and cellular phones. Mobile penetration has now outnumbered the population, rocketing to around 126 percent. Similarly, broadband and WiMax technologies have reached rural areas and made faster Internet access a reality at considerably cheaper cost. Internet penetration has increased by 27 percent in three years.
Through the Rural Technology Development Fund, the Nepal Telecom Authority has been able to extend Internet availability around the country. After setting up a fiber backbone that has been awarded to various Internet Service Providers for all seven provinces, new tenders will be awarded to ISPs for connecting government agencies under each province. The Department of Information Technology is focused on implementing e-governance with IT-related laws, plans and policies. The National IT Center is up and running along with the Government Integrated Data Center and Disaster Recovery site in Hetauda. The Government Enterprise Architecture and the Government Interoperability Framework have been published, a rare practice by software developers. The online National Portal has also recently been revised.
Partial achievements in e-governance have also been attained by way of the e-Government Master Plan (e-GMP) initiated in 2008: online Vehicle Registration and License Systems are being developed; the Land Reform Information Management System is in the final stage; and the National Identity Project is also underway, though implementation dates are not yet fixed.
All these means that out of the five stages of e-governance (UN, ASPA 2002), Nepal is headed towards the fourth phase—transactional presence—thanks to an impressive leap in the use of interactive Government to Citizen Services web-portals/mobile-based applications, initiation of government cloud and online transaction services such as eSewa and Khalti for digital payments. As per the e-Governance Development Index (UNPACS, 2016), Nepal has climbed up 30 positions in 2016 from 2014, ranking 135 out of 193 countries.
The challenges we still face today are: a) poor infrastructure, data silos and segregated standalone systems; b) lack of awareness at the citizen level; c) cultural resistance to change and the impact of the generation gap; d) political instability and lack of willingness at the policy level; e) lack of skilled human resources in the public sector; and f) lack of priority afforded to ICT budgeting. Fortunately, with the country now transitioning to a federal structure, it will provide us a clean slate in which we can find ways to use technology to deliver citizen-centric, efficient and transparent services.
Guaranteeing the newly-formed seven provinces and 753 autonomous local units the constitutional right to make local-level decisions means that there will be smaller and more narrowly-defined areas and target populations to consider for service delivery, and certainly expectations of more demand-based and customized applications.
However, there is a great need to develop provincial and local level ICT infrastructure and arrangements. To mitigate the repercussions of data silos and standalone systems, especially given the autonomy of local units, certain central-level strategies are required. Currently the e-MGP-2 (2015-19) is focused on agriculture, education, health and tourism, prioritizing local government areas.
With the changed legislative structure, the legal framework needs to be revised and preparations made for the next phase of the e-MGP that is suited to the federal context. The role of the central government will be to guide the local-level e-governance plans with national priorities and benefits in mind, coordinate and facilitate implementation, and share success stories as well as lessons from failed cases.