By Marian Sharaf Joseph
MOBILITY is the new buzz word. Developing nations are focusing on how government and businesses can provide an effective and successful social infrastructure to the public through the use of mobile applications and services. Critics believe while e-Government, ‘the implementation of services through the use of information technology’, was essential for governments, ‘provision of services through mobile technologies is now inevitable.’ Growing demand for mobility, and the competence and output gain of the public sector through mobility has led to a natural move from e-Government to m-Government.
Experts and research analysts in the field of information technology believe that in developing nations where internet penetration is low due to lack of infrastructure but mobile connectivity and penetration is high, m-Government is a better option for citizen interaction and functioning of various projects where m-governance is required. M-governance, also referred to as m-Government, was initiated by Professor Ibrahim Kushchu in Japan at the mGovLab, who states, “As e-Business evolves towards m-Business, e-Government seems to follow the trend with a few but significant mobile government (m-Governance) applications and services.”
Recent analysis reveals that in developing nations like Turkey, mobile phones have penetrated 23.3 million (34 percent) of 69.6 million population compared to 4.3 million (six percent) internet users, and its rapidly growing. In spite of the increase in mobile connections the mobile internet penetration rate remains low because of which the m-governance applications are confined to G2G or G2C based on SMS and GPRS technologies. Although Turkey is in the early stages of building these applications, m-governance is considered to be better than traditional way of service provision. Compared to Turkey, mobile phone penetration in the Philippines is 23.8 percent that accounts for 20 million mobile phone users out of 84 million population. Dependent on G2C and C2G applications, Philippines TXT CSC – an SMS service launched by Civil Service Commission has helped increase the efficiency and speed of service delivery. Reporting Criminal Offense launched in 2002 by Philippine National Police has enabled citizens to report criminal offenses committed by criminals and police alike to the relevant authorities. But the most surprising is the effort made by the landlocked petite country in Central Europe – Czech Republic, where mobile phones users are 95 percent of its 10 million population. This puts Czech Republic among the top in lead in Europe and probably in the world. Many of its m-government applications launched and tested are for informing citizens about crisis and natural disasters.
Pakistan isn’t far behind any other developing nation in initiating m-governance for better and effective functioning of government departments and projects. In fact, Pakistan is in the lead in m-governance as far as the subcontinent is concerned. Initiated with the support of World Bank in 2013, m-governance in Pakistan is a total success story.
Pakistan’s information and communication technologies (ICT) sector, an effort of the government of Punjab, is single-handedly run by the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), that’s inspired provincial governments in Pakistan to build their independent ICT sectors. Pakistan currently has a mobile penetration rate of 76 percent. According to analysts, mobile subscribers in Pakistan have grown at over 10 million in the last five years. As of Central Asian Cellular Forum, there will be over 80 million mobile broadband users in Pakistan by 2025.
This, in view of some industry analysts is normal while considering the total mobile subscriptions would be swelling to over 190 million by 2025.
In January 2015, Raúl Zambrano, the Global Lead and Policy Adviser in the ICT for Development and e-governance team at UNDP’s Democratic Governance practice based in New York while speaking to a local publication in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad said, “For open, transparent and accountable government, you need technology. Reforms are about changing the way a particular government works, e-governance encompasses that. That’s a hard paradigm shift to bring about, but one that is very important to do.”
Many developing countries see technology as an expense but technologists and innovators firmly believe technology is the solution for almost everything. Although technology alone cannot do development, realizing the need for technology, the government of Pakistan has been successful in bringing public services and public value to people in areas with low or no connectivity. The fact remains low connectivity is no barrier to e-Governance services.
HUMAN INTEREST M-GOVERNANCE
SMART MONITORING OF SCHOOLS
THE government has restructured public schooling system for better upgrading of education institutes across Punjab. Under School Monitoring System school education department officials pay monthly visit to each of its 54,000 schools across the province. “These officials are required to report key stats such as student enrolment, teacher presence, and the availability of utilities at a school,” says an enthusiastic government teacher.
Initiated with the supervision of PITB, the field staff is equipped with SIM-enabled tablet-PCs that allow these officers to digitally submit forms during their on-site visits. Trained by PITB to use the application, field staff is able to update real-time reporting with pictorial evidence, geo-tagging of sites visited and automatic alerts based on below target performance.
“Through the tablet based system we are able to ensure proper and hassle-free monitoring of schools while having quick response by PMIU through real time information management and reporting,” an Monitoring and Evaluation Assistants (MEA) of public school informed me. “We are about 950 MEAs using the tablet-based system with built in details for 54000 schools across 36 districts of Punjab.” The goal has been achieved by making the gathered data available online on a geo-spatial dashboard right after an MEA logged in the details through his tablet-PC.
The current government is heavily focused on training teachers, facilitating students with better education, and upgrading the system with latest technology to ensure better operations. With School Monitoring System, education department is able to spot issues and give instant solution to improve the education system across the nation.
How m-governance worked for Pakistan
The government of Pakistan has invested billions in buying personal computers, laptops, data centers and fiber connectivity to power enterprise applications, but this has been a perennial challenge. The Punjab government, which should be taken as a success model among other provincial governments of Pakistan, believes the use of smartphone solves many challenges instantly. Why? Simply because it is cheap (less than $100) and portable, intuitive to use, doesn’t require uninterrupted power, includes an embedded GPS device and has an always-on network connection. Of course, it has some social value embedded in it; smartphone owners can use it to call family and friends, their children can play games on it and so on. Unlike a PC, it is typically not handed over to some assistant in a back-office. This is why many users who are on duty to report on progress of a task or send alerts during man-made or natural disasters have been able to deliver efficiently despite having basic or no education. As a consequence, the government has been able to raise smartphone literacy rate among the masses. The Punjab government took the plunge and in a constant series of experimentation, dedication and perseverance has been able to cater to human interest issues, law and order, and better functioning of citizen service delivery.
So, how has m-Governance worked for them? The answer is the Punjab Public Management Reform Program (PPMRP). Komal Khan, Project Director PPMRP goes on to explain, “The PPMRP is the flagship program of PITB which is being funded by the World Bank. It achieves the assigned task of increasing transparency and efficiency by developing smartphone applications for monitoring field staff, and by disseminating information about government processes through toll free help lines and departmental websites.”
Under the PPMRP, PITB has developed and deployed smartphone applications to monitor field staff of several Punjab government departments and to collect data for future planning. The PPMRP has been able to develop the Health Department, Education Department, Irrigation Department, Agriculture Department, and Livestock and Dairy Development Department. “Our first application was developed over a weekend for the City District Government Lahore. This was for the much needed anti-dengue campaign, which helped track the activities of its dengue prevention field staff. This campaign was carried out via basic Android phones. Our first application enabled the field workers to take a picture of a completed task, tag its GPS coordinates (geotag) and upload it to our dashboard. Our system time-stamped the incoming pictures and mapped them to the field worker’s phone numbers. Because the updates were shown on a Google map, we were able to analyze the progress of prevention activities,” said Burhan Rasool, Director Software Engineering at PITB.
Gopal Sathe, a journalist from India, was bold enough to admit Pakistan’s anti-dengue campaign carried out via m-Governance was a smarter approach towards eradicating the epidemic than India’s approach to using whatsapp for registering citizen complaints. Sathe in his article goes on to explain, “Since all the work is being geotagged and time stamped, if there is any lacuna, it is possible now to zero in on the exact area and time where photos needed to be checked. Accountability was in fact the biggest selling point to many of the heads of departments, to get better insights into the work their staffers were doing.”
Since the success of anti-dengue campaign PITB has built 26 apps which are being used in various government sectors. Under its Health Watch, drug inspectors now carry smartphones update report on their visits to pharmacy outlets while visits of livestock executive district officers (EDOs) are tracked using our smartphones, and agriculture extension workers report their activities using our smartphones. As a matter of fact, Lahore police uses smartphone applications to analyze crime hotspots.
Among all the services rendered via m-governance what pleases the citizens the most is Hajj Monitoring and Management System that enables the pilgrim to register via online application while the Hajj Monitoring Cell at Ministry of Religious Affairs keeps a track on the pilgrim to provide maximum comfort during Hajj. “The Android App allows to monitor private hajj group organizers. In the past, monitoring forms were filled manually which provided little or no authentic evidence of the pilgrim’s journey. Through this app, the officials take photographic evidence regarding the monitoring activity which serves as a verified data. Moreover, it captures the GPS location and maps the data on the online system,” says Komal Khan. The Hajj app also caters to incident reporting system, which carries a different level of escalation and alert mechanism for the authorities to mobilize and respond accordingly. ‘Lost and Found’ cell operations for reporting a missing or found pilgrim, or his belongings along with a full inventory management is possible through this app,” informs Komal Khan.
She says the model of mobile governance, or m-Governance, is quickly taking root in Punjab. The rapid adoption, level of innovation and sophistication of our evolving systems is unprecedented in public sector organizations, especially in developing countries. In the coming year, seven major government departments will heavily start using our smartphone-based monitoring systems — employing over 30,000 Smartphones. If we manage to keep our momentum, Pakistan may become one of the leading examples of innovations in m-governance.
Livestock and Agriculture
Vet-Inspect, a smart phone application for District Livestock Officers (DLOs) and Deputy District Livestock Officers (DDLOs) enables district administrative officers to inspect facility per pre-defined KPIs and report data on the move, the data is submitted using smart phones that are distributed by PITB under the umbrella of Punjab Public Management Reforms Program (PPMRP). Availability of Medicine, Vaccine and Semen, Attendance of deputed staff and Listing of non-functional equipment are the broader categories to rate facility in an inspection visits.
In a nutshell Vet Inspect is:
- Comprehensive dashboard to keep a close check on condition of veterinary facilities of department throughout Punjab.
- Compliance matrix against assigned targets to determine whether administrative heads in districts are carrying out inspection visits.
- Timely dissemination of information to provincial headquarters.
- Decision facilitation tool for authorities to ensure quality service delivery to farmers at large.
Marian Sharaf Joseph is an independent journalist with expertise in local and international journalism. Her research-based articles focus on culture and community affairs.