Design digital frameworkThe government must digitise public service delivery not just to ensure everyone’s safety but also to be future ready.
Hundreds of thousands of applicants have been affected ever since the government suspended driver's licence applications and tests after it imposed a nationwide lockdown in March to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The Department of Transport Management has postponed the driving tests five times since then. It is yet to announce the dates to resume this basic of services, which has caused major inconvenience to the general public while snatching their right to obtaining a driver’s licence.
If we do a rough math based on the number of applications the department received and the number of those who were issued driver’s licences during the pre-pandemic days, some 728,000 people have been deprived of getting their rightful licence to drive in the last eight months. Department records show that they used to receive some 8,900 applications daily.
In what is an apparent lack of governance and indicative of bureaucratic hurdles, department officials now say that they await ministry approval and are unsure when things will get back to normal since the distribution of licences comes under the federal government’s jurisdiction. Officials also maintain that their staff cannot handle the workload if tests were to resume tomorrow, but nothing stops them from resuming licence renewal, vehicle registration and tax collection, which the department resumed in mid-June after the government eased the lockdown restrictions, attracting huge crowds and sans any public health protocols.
The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, under which the department runs the system, must come out of its deep slumber and fulfil its primary job of serving the taxpayers. The pandemic cannot be a reason anymore to keep postponing the public’s right to obtain a driving licence. The ministry must shelve any issues that need to be settled with the federal government or address any problems its department might have to resume the applications and tests at the earliest. But while restarting the services, public health protocols must be highly prioritised considering the high risks of contracting the virus in the Kathmandu Valley, which has been reporting more than half of the daily new cases.
And it is not that the ministry doesn’t have a system or that the department lacks the know-how to implement it. The digital mechanism to receive online applications already exists, which can easily lessen the number of people visiting the department’s office, which are usually crowded. In consultation with the department officials and federal government, the ministry could easily implement a daily limit on the number of applications and tests and move all other services and transactions online in consideration of the Covid-19 situation.
The authorities need to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the pandemic and design a robust digital framework. While this would help the government to meet its digital governance ambitions and dole out its services at immense speed and with more efficiency, it also creates a win-win situation for everyone as the general public and stakeholders have already embraced the digital wave.
Going digital saves us time and money, which could be put to productive use rather than spending hours or even a day or two at government offices. For both the public and government, the shift to a truly digital system would make work a lot easier compared to the stressful hassle it is now. Given the pandemic, this is a mechanism the government needs to implement and keep exploring, not just at the Department of Transport Management but across all sectors; and not just to ensure everyone’s safety, but also to be future ready.