How Information Technology can Enable Governance in Developing Countries
The Problems of Governance in Developing Countries
Governance is a problem in many Third World countries where the structures and the systems of governance are slow, archaic, and bureaucratic. Moreover, many developing countries do not have processes in place that would ensure reliable delivery of public services. For instance, take the example of the Asian and the African countries where even if the government intends to deliver public services, corruption and bureaucracy ensure that such services almost always do not reach the intended beneficiaries.
Further, there is the problem of last mile connectivity wherein citizens in remote areas inaccessible through road and rail transport find that they do not receive any benefits let alone being aware or empowered to demand such services.
What is Last Mile Connectivity ?
Last mile connectivity is the phenomenon where the final step in the delivery value chain is poorly planned and executed leaving those without access (any form of access) without any benefits. For instance, consider the case of some African countries where the hinterland is so poorly connected to the delivery value chain that people living in those areas have to fend for themselves. Indeed, even in moderately developed countries such as India, the government finds it hard to reach everyone because of the last mile connectivity.
IT Enabled Governance
This is where Information Technology (IT) enabled governance is highly effective. If those people in the rural and the interior areas are provided with an internet connection (wireless) and a bank account, then the government can ensure that subsidies and welfare benefits are directly transferred into their accounts thereby solving the problem of last mile connectivity. In addition, the use of IT enabled governance can also reduce or even eliminate corruption as the people now receive direct transfers instead of through governmental and unofficial middlemen who hitherto were siphoning off the money or demanding a cut.
Red Tape and Bureaucracy
Further, IT enabled governance can also reduce the red tape associated with bureaucracy. For instance, it is often the case that many people are unaware of the various benefit schemes under the governmental welfare policies. This is because governments and especially the bureaucrats at the lower ends of the hierarchy are reluctant to part with information regarding the schemes for various reasons. If the details of such schemes are made available on the websites of the governmental agencies, then the people can get to know and become more aware as well as empowered to avail and even demand that the benefits of such schemes be made available to them.
Indeed, the biggest advantage of IT enabled governance is that it empowers the ordinary people and ensures that information is available to them at the click of a mouse. As the saying goes, knowledge is power. This means that once people have information as well as knowledge about the various schemes and the policies of the government, they are in a position of strength since they can approach the government and demand the officials to let them avail of the benefits. In this sense, IT enabled governance is empowering to the citizenry of the country.
Example of UID as a Method of IT Enabled Governance
Apart from these advantages, IT enabled governance also ensures identification and tagging of citizens so that bogus beneficiaries as well as the scope for fraud and corruption are minimized. A good example of this in practice is the UID (Universal Identification Number) method of providing Identity Cards that are based on biometric data to the citizens in India. This scheme which has been recognized the world over as a stellar contribution to both IT enabled governance as well as the power of IT to change and transform lives and countries has already reached a major part of the population and is now showing results wherein the basic as well as the advanced services under the welfare schemes reach the intended beneficiaries without any leakage or loss of funds in the delivery value chain.
Making the Delivery Value Chain More Efficient
As can be seen from the points made so far, it is clear that the delivery value chain starts with the government and ends with the ultimate beneficiary. In the process, it encompasses a wide variety of stakeholders who can create obstacles and hurdles.
Using IT, most of the middle layers in the value chain can be done away with and the direct contact between the ends of the value chain ensures that the middlemen and the intermediaries do not get a chance to indulge in corruption and red tape. In short, IT enabled governance is indeed a game changer for developing countries where the delivery value chain is so corroded that only 20% of the intended amount reaches the last point which is the beneficiary and the rest is lost at various stages in the value chain.
Conclusion: The Promise and the Challenges of IT Enabled Governance
Before concluding this article, it would be pertinent to note that there are challenges with IT enabled governance as well and these are to do with the low level of IT penetration, lack of education among the people who even with IT cannot access services because of illiteracy. Therefore, the next step in any IT enabled governance is to target the education and health sectors which world over have the active involvement of the governments. In conclusion, it is the case that we should make optimum use of technology when it is available and instead of using IT for everything except governance; we would be losing a vital opportunity to actualize social welfare to the masses.
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