Online links replacing paper in Nepal municipality
Friday, 24 January 2002: A digital pace is starting to replace the rhythm of filing paper forms and stamping documents for a long queue of people at the municipal offices in Bharatpur, a town of 90,000 in central Nepal.
A joint initiative by UNDP and the Government put municipal services online this month, a pioneering project that sets the stage for efforts to bring access to information and communications technology (ICT) to communities nationwide.
Before the Internet option, everyone in Bharatpur had to go to the municipal offices to register births, marriages, deaths, housing construction and file other documents. Now they can submit forms electronically and also send in suggestions and queries to municipal authorities via e-mail.
The municipality has trained the 14 secretaries to operate the system in the town's wards, and the 18 cyber cafes are available as service centres, working in coordination with the municipality -- a mutually beneficial arrangement.
The municipality's Information Centre is spreading the word in each ward to tell households about the new services. The town is also seeing more computer institutes opening their doors, and more young people are gaining skills.
"With support from the people, UNDP and the Government, and the commitment of the municipality, Bharatpur can be a model of e-governance," said Hom Nidhi Poudel, chief of the municipality's Information Section. It is an example of a transparent system, with information about all the activities of the municipality available through the Internet, he added.
Only 3.5 million out of 24 million Nepalese have access to electricity, mainly in urban areas, and there are only three PCs per 1,000 people. Nepal has only 11 Internet service providers, 290 Internet hosts and 50,000 Internet and email users.
Though use of ICT in public administration and government is limited, its potential for helping development and economic growth has prompted the Ministry of Science and Technology to take steps to develop the sector. It formulated a national ICT policy and strategies in 2000.
UNDP and the Government have carried out studies on mobilizing ICT for development and these identified connecting rural communities to the Internet as a priority.
The government aims to set up about 1,000 community technology centres to provide public access to ICT, offering many rural communities their first access to a world of information on the Internet. UNDP plans to support the effort with a pilot project on rural connectivity.
ICT can empower communities and help reduce poverty by improving access to information vital for progress in sectors such as education, health care, agriculture, business, and public administration.