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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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In Bid for Greater Transparency, Nepal is Digitizing Government Processes

Government shift to online job bidding

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If these places were digitalized, everything would be online and accessible to many people at a time. This could help with reducing the corruption.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL It is 11 a.m. and the Baneshwor section of Kathmandu, Nepals capital, is bustling. In the office of Ishan Construction Services, owner Krishna Prasad Dhungana is online. Hes surfing the website of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport, looking for newly posted construction jobs.

Dhungana, who has been working in construction since 2003, says the governments shift to online job bidding is saving time and streamlining application processes.

In the past, Dhungana had to file many papers in person, including his companys eligibility certificate and proof of his citizenship, when bidding for a job.

Before the ministry launched the website in 2010, construction jobs were only published in the government-owned newspaper, Gorkhapatra. Dhungana applied for more than 300 construction and road-building jobs through the old paper process but never won a government contract. But since the new system was launched, he has won five.

We do not have to wait for office time to fill out the forms, he says. We can fill out the form at any time of the day. It has become very easy.

Corruption is partially to blame for his lack of success under the old procedure, Dhungana says. The digital process has reduced government corruption, he says.

To make the result in ones favor, people would spend money and also hire goons to threaten the other bidders, Dhungana says. Now we have got rid of all these things.

The Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport is not alone in the push to digitize previously paper-heavy processes.

Nepal is nearly five years into an effort to digitize government processes. The project aims to elevate financial transparency, good governance and public access to information.

But claims of corruption remain common in government offices with inadequate budgets for information technology and staff training. Furthermore, databases are subject to hacking. Training for government staff, which began in 2013, is expected to redress these weaknesses.

The Nepalese government has been slow to adopt computer technology. It established a national computer center to train government staff in 1993, but it was not effectively used and ultimately was dismantled, says Ram Adhar Shah, spokesperson for the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

The government introduced a new Information Technology Policy in 2000, but government agencies only began to implement it around 2010.

The government realized that using computers led to better governance and a corruption-free administration, Shah says.

All 27 government ministries and the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers have digitized their day-to-day operations, Shah says. Those 27 ministries include more than 7,000 offices, 50 percent of which are now using computers.

In the five years since Nepal began to implement digitization in government offices, the country has seen increased foreign investment, says Krishna Hari Banskota, former secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

Modern technology plays a key role in the countrys development, Banskota says. Digitization helps to make the inner workings of government more transparent, efficient and free of corruption.

As evidence, he points to a $190 million loan from Japan for hydropower development in 2013.

Once the information is online, it is easy to access, Banskota says. Therefore, foreign donors have an easy path to invest in Nepal.

The push to digital processes has helped all citizens of Nepal, says Saroj Singh, 28, a student at Ratna Rajya Laxmi Campus in Kathmandu.

In 2004, Singh had to wait weeks for a newspaper announcement to get the results of his School Leaving Certificate, the final exam in Nepals secondary school system, he says.

But now, the Higher Secondary Education Board posts exam results to its website within days after students have taken the test, he says. Test scores can also be accessed via mobile phone.

Back then, it was not as easy as it is now, Singh says. We spent sleepless nights thinking without knowing what happened. But now we are free of this unnecessary stress.

The digital publication of scores also has reduced corruption in the education sector. When results were published via newspaper, Singh says, buying test scores was common.

The students who had failed could bribe the officials to make them pass the exam, he says.

Hari Lamsal, undersecretary of the Ministry of Education, agrees.

In the past, we used to hear about failed results being amended, he says. But with the online system, everything is entered in the computer. Hence, it is difficult to change the data.

Online processes also reduce corruption in other sectors, including elections, government officials claim.

In the constituent assembly elections held in June, electronic voting was piloted in the Kathmandu, Chitwan, Bardiya and Kailali districts. The results in those areas were very transparent, says Shanta Raj Subedi, secretary of the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

As everything needs to be done and updated online, the work becomes more transparent, and there is less chance of corruption, Subedi says.

Nepal has long been plagued by lack of transparency and claims of corruption.

The Corruption Perceptions Index, measured by Transparency International, a nongovernmental organization that monitors corruption in civil service and business sectors around the world, ranked Nepal 139 out of 176 with 1 representing the least corrupt country in 2012.

Thanks in part to new digitization efforts, the 2013 ranking fell 23 places to 116 out of 177 countries.

However, Nepal rose to 126 out of 175 in 2014.

Similarly, the World Bank Groups Ease of Doing Business index, which measures the economic state of countries, ranked Nepal 108 out of 189 countries. A ranking close to 1 means the regulatory environment is conducive to starting and operating a local firm.

Upgrading to digital processes has helped to improve economic indicators and transparency ratings for countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia, says Tham Nath Ghimire, senior communications officer at Transparency International Nepal.

Ghimire recognizes the importance of digitization in improving the countrys democratic process.

In electronic booths, once the vote is cast by hitting the switch, it cannot be changed, Ghimire says. When a vote is cast on paper, it can be manipulated when the sealed boxes are transferred to the place where the votes are counted usually the district headquarters. Therefore, voting in electronic booths is 100 percent transparent.

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