Towards a digital NepalA robust e-governance strategy can help build an efficient, accountable and transparent government.
Nepal has envisioned a future of digital governance through its Digital Nepal strategy, which constitutes three national goals: Accessible modern infrastructure along with intensive connectivity, quantitative sustainable production and productivity, and good governance. The core objective of Digital Nepal is to secure a multi-dimensional transformation of the economy. The expected outcome is smooth public service delivery through digital technology.
The country has completed significant activities like building a nationwide optical fibre network, connecting and operating the main equipment of 4G LTE, and bringing a mobile device management system and national e-payment gateway into operation. It is also exploring the feasibility of using digital signatures in government service delivery and rendering public services electronically. Some immediate challenges along the way include launching the Sagarmatha Satellite and the 5G mobile network.
The 14th plan of Nepal has met its target of reaching 65 percent of Nepalis with access to the internet. The 15th plan seeks to ensure 80 percent of Nepalis have internet access by the end of the fiscal year 2023-2024. The Covid-19 pandemic affected Nepal’s economy but opened doors to virtual communication. For now, the expansion and management of IT infrastructure remain a challenge. Nepal has to generate innovative and entrepreneurial human resources through multilateral partnerships with the various information systems of the government in service delivery.
Many developing countries are reeling under extreme poverty, and there have been no significant changes in people’s lives for years. One notable reason is corruption. Traditional forms of governance, manual systems, unethical behaviour of public servants, government procurement systems, bureaucratic delays, and red tape have contributed to corruption.
In such a scenario, e-governance plays a significant role in ensuring good governance and transparency. E-governance is an innovative approach used globally to improve efficiency, information sharing, and delivering better services to the public. E-governance is more about the process of government reform and resulting benefits than the application of specific technological solutions or services.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have emerged as innovative approaches with the potential to improve people's lives, particularly those in the margin and developing countries. Today, we cannot imagine a world without a computer, smartphone, or internet connection. ICTs are omnipresent in cars, phones, aircraft, banks, schools, etc. The Internet of Things (IoT), an innovative domain, is on the rise. Technology-mediated applications are increasingly gaining popularity and have become part and parcel of our daily lives.
A good e-governance strategy can contribute to building a more efficient, accountable and transparent government. If inclusive, e-governance applications can rebuild citizen trust in government, promote economic growth by improving the interface with business, and empower citizens to participate in the broader advancement of good governance. While e-governance is not a panacea for the complex and deep-rooted corruption problems, ICTs can contribute effectively towards any anti-corruption efforts. Governments worldwide should use ICTs to their full potential for the timely achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). ICTs can help deliver dramatic results in education, health and socio-economic growth. It is critical to reaching a consensus on the need for a new set of connectivity targets to help governments harness broadband networks and services and proceed towards 17 SDGs.
Nepal has made rapid progress in ICT compared to other sectors, but there is ample space to improve. One major bottleneck is the lack of strong political commitment to the full utilisation of ICTs. Political leadership is yet to carry the plan of ICTs as a driver of the socio-economic transformation of the country. Our leaders must realise the growing importance of ICTs, internet, social media, and the e-world.
People today actively participate in interactions in the digital world. Of course, the sectors like agriculture, hydropower and tourism are the potential sectors of Nepal with high feasibility of growth and a ray of hope. But one thing cannot be ignored: the ICTs have gone beyond the borders. Its impact is massive. Its effect is rapid and multifaceted. It redraws boundaries and redefines how services are offered—whether by a private company, a public enterprise, an organisation, an entity, or the whole government.
The South Korean case can be considered a benchmark to examine how governmental transparency can be enhanced in the context of developing countries and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Nepal. After its democratic transition in 1987, South Korea adopted measures for governmental transparency. Several legal approaches contributed to improving good governance, including the Official Information Disclosure Act, a Korean version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which contributed toward enhanced transparency. Similarly, various e-government systems and government initiatives for the digitisation of the government were devised to increase efficiency and transparency in government.
Nepal can learn economic development lessons and policy implications from Korea through ICTs. It has considerable potential for ICT development and promotion, but there are just a few instances of digitalisation initiatives by the government. Several legal instruments, including the Telecom Policy 2004, the IT Policy 2010, the Broadband Policy 2010, and the ICT Policy 2015, have been formulated in the direction of e-governance. The ICT Policy 2015 envisages the role of ICTs: “ICTs can enhance better governance, with more transparent and efficient civil service. ICT is to play important roles in economic development and poverty alleviation efforts which are the primary goals of SDGs.”
E-governance is undoubtedly crucial for good governance on the whole and for combating corruption specifically. Nepal can replicate Korea's ICT legislation and implementation measures to ensure good governance and economic development through ICTs as an essential driver of growth and development. It is high time the political leadership realised the enormous potential of ICTs in the country's overall development, and the Nepali bureaucracy translated these potentials into action to regain public trust. It is an excellent opportunity for both the policymakers and the administrators to the vision of Digital Nepal.