Digital revolution requiredPeople should refuse to spend the entire day waiting in a queue in a government office.
Bhoj Raj Poudel
Nepal is behind other developing countries in terms of adopting technology to digitise financial services. The financial sector has failed to secure traditional ATMs, let alone move forward with new technology to provide digital financial services. Besides enforcing regulations regarding paid-up capital and other financial indicators, financial institutions should be regulated with regard to the use of technology for financial transactions. This is linked to improved service delivery in conjunction with the protection of a large amount of unique customer data.
Financial institutions are the ones who need the most secure digital platforms which can help them to expand their market and increase their business in a highly competitive market. Nepal’s financial system is far behind in terms of the use of technology to improve service delivery in a secure manner. ATM fraudsters recently paralysed the country's entire financial system for more than a week.
The larger picture of the country is even bleaker. The Office of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers conducted a virtual cabinet meeting last month when Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was in Singapore for medical treatment. Conducting virtual meetings is not uncommon in today’s world. But what is very surprising is the way the government tried to glorify it. Questions over data security and state secrets were dismissed superficially. No parliamentary committee considered it a serious matter although some parliamentarians raised the issue in the House.
There is no sign of reform in the bureaucracy to make it more technology-friendly. Even a small task needs to be done manually and carried to the desk of higher authorities for further action. This has to be done at the expense of time and resources and the level of efficiency in government offices. Some ministries have started e-registering letters and assigning tasks within the ministry to track work progress. But some bureaucrats were found to be putting letters going against their interest in their pockets. This is purely a behavioural issue of bureaucrats which demands a complete overhaul.
Nepal is among those few countries where digitising the economy still remains a distant dream. The government has no concrete plan to help small and medium businesses use technology to flourish. In order to internalise the digital economy, the government should implement the use of technology in offices and automate most of the bureaucratic tasks. Most of the fast-growing economies in the world are digitising financial services and working on innovating more digital financial tools. A higher rate of financial inclusion is difficult without the help of digital financial services. Most of the economies are working on finding out more secure and scalable tools to expand the financial ecosystem so that even the poorest of the poor have access to finance. Digital finance has promoted financial inclusion providing financial services to 80 percent of poor adults estimated to be excluded from the regulated financial sector.
Globally, the finance, insurance and information and communications technology sectors are digital leaders while manufacturing, retail and wholesale trade, transportation, professional services, utilities and mining are digital followers. But if we look at the case of Nepal, the finance and insurance sector itself seems to be a novice. By 2022, more than 60 percent of the global gross domestic product will be digitised, which is the year when Nepal wants to graduate from the least developed country status. An estimated 70 percent of the new value created in the economy over the next decade will be based on digitally-enabled platforms. Nepal may have to re-examine why it’s going to be left behind.
The global economy is moving at a fast pace as more people are participating in the digital world. More than 50 percent of the world’s total population is already within the network of the digital economy. Israeli historian and professor Yuval Noah Harari has written in his book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow that the world is going to be ruled by technology and artificial intelligence. This doesn’t mean the value of humans will be less. But the tragedy is that there will be a new kind of humans called Homo Deus who will be treating Homo sapiens just like the latter treated their cousins the Neanderthals.
In the long term, people from poor countries like Nepal will be those who will be left behind and be treated as useless blood and flesh. This is not because the Nepali people are less smart or anything than others, but because Nepal is governed by less capable people and the resources are being misused by rent-seekers in high positions as if this landmass was their own private property. The first step in moving fast is getting rid of those in high positions who are holding us back. And doing that requires young people to call for a digital revolution by refusing to comply with anything that makes them spend the entire day waiting in a queue in a government office.