E-Pao! Opinions : e-Governance and development in Manipur

e-Governance and development in Manipur
Thiyam Bharat & Thiyam Rajesh

Lack of transparency, financial discipline has been an important feature of public sector enterprises in the State of Manipur. It is, therefore, meaningful to redefine the activities of the State government for promoting development given the fast growing of technology over the years: writes Bharat and Rajesh.

Information technology can be regarded as a factor of production, along with the land, labour, capital and organization. Information can be regarded as an important input in production process. Thus along with three sector model of primary, secondary and tertiary industries, a fourth sector information related industries has emerged. According to Low (2000), "The activities of generating, processing, transmitting, disseminating, storing, archiving and retrieving information constitute information industry".

A transformation from brick and mortar economy to knowledge cum technology driven economy requires reassessment of information technology for growth and development for developing countries. e-governance assumes relevance in the context of knowledge based economy. e-governance can be defined as the information and communication technologies (ICTs) - enabled route to achieve good governance. It integrates people, process, information and technology in the process of achieving good governance. Government in low income countries costs too much, delivers too little and not responsive or accountable. Under-developed countries have generally faced two types of challenges in the process of adoption of e-governance. They are e-readiness and tactical challenge of closing designs-reality gaps. This paper makes a humble attempt to examine e-governance and its associated problems and benefits in the State of Manipur.

Many States in India are generally suffered from political and macro-economic instability. There are also social cleavages along ethnic and other lines across the country. In this environment, the potential for e-governance initiatives may well be limited. However, the social benefits from the adoption of e-governance are enormous. Cost benefit analyses is not a viable way to evaluate e-governance. Nevertheless, we can explore the extent of benefits by using cost-benefit ratio. Recent estimates suggest at least 80 per cent of the costs of ICT related projects are taken up in intangible, largely hidden costs. Likewise, the majority of e-governance benefits are also intangible. Indeed there is a strong argument for not making cost/benefit analyses the control plank of decision making. Despite many challenges of adopting e-governance, many fruits from e-governance should be not overlooked by the people of the State.

Four important stages are involved in e-governance. They are automation (For example, the replacement of existing clerical functions by computers), Informatisation (For example, supporting current process of decision making, communication and decision implementation is informatisation), Transaction (For example, people participation is transaction), Transformation (For example, creating new methods of public service delivery is transformation, i.e., business process re-engineering & change management).

These stages are undoubtedly associated with many benefits to governance for development. It can be classified as efficiency gains and effectiveness gains. By efficiency gains we mean the governance which produces the same level of output at the same cost, higher level of output at the same cost, same level of output at lower cost. Effectiveness means governance that produces new output which may consider as innovation. e-governance also involves internal and external economies. Internal economies provide benefits such as better staffing motivation or greater political control or an improved public image. External economies deliver cheaper, better services to those who depend on government. There are three contributions of e-governance. They are improving government processes (e-administration), connecting citizens (e-citizens) and building external interactions (e-society).

Since the initiation of New Economic Policy in 1991 in India, there has been a tendency for reducing the size of public expenditure in the country. This has had significant effect across India. In Manipur, a Memorandum of Understanding was also signed between the State government and Central government in April 1991. This can be said to be a process of expenditure control exercise. Lack of transparency and financial discipline, unaccountability has been an important feature of public sector enterprises in the State of Manipur. It is, therefore, meaningful to redefine the activities of the State government for promoting development given the fast growing of technology over the years. In this context, the adoption of e-governance can be considered as an important one to expedite in reducing the size of public expenditure of the State government and increase the revenue. ICT is a means through which e-governance could be achieved. ICT can act as a relatively concrete lever to change. E-governance can cut costs, speed up decision making service delivery, improve the capacity of government and service delivery and enable innovative approaches to governance. In this connection, one example can be cited here. The decision under Rajiv Gandhi to press ahead with computerization of passengers reservations on the railways had a more catalytic effect. It sent out ripples into both business and civil society that have helped put India where it is today in ICT terms.

Cutting process costs
Automation can replace higher human costs with lower ICT costs to support efficiency/productivity improvements. Informatisation can support decisions and implementation in downsizing or rightsizing exercises. The rationale is to address the large size of public sector expenditure and the inefficiency of many of its processes. The Egyptian case is a good example. In Egypt, the Information and Decision Support Center has created a comprehensive national database with 85 million birth records, 12 million marriage records and 2 million divorce records. This has provided the basis for a national ID number and, hence, a secure and accurate national ID card. Automation of previously-manual processes has saved considerable sums of money. The information base and ID numbers have also been an essential building block in the creation of other public sector planning and service delivery applications. (IDSC (2000) Civil Information systems: The National ID Number, IDSC, Cairo.

Managing process performance
The rationale is to make more efficient or effective use of process resources. The Tanzanian case can be cited as an example. The Government of Tanzania has recently launched its integrated HR and Payroll systems covering about 280,000 public servants. While the capital invested was significant at around US$ 6.5 million, the savings already accrued in improved management- reduced ghost workers, improved control, and accuracy-mean that the project has already paid for itself. The government of Tanzania has also implemented an Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) at all ministries in Dar-es-Salaam and Dodoma via a wide area network. IFMS has improved control over expenditure management, resulting in more timely and detailed reporting. Internet-enabled versions of both systems will soon be rolled out countrywide. (Ntiro, S, 2000)

Making strategic connections in government
This is to provide clear direction from public sector and state processes and to provide for a more evidence-based approach to policy and process. Connecting agencies, levels and data stores of government to strengthen capacity to investigate, develop and implement the strategy and policy that guides government processes. Examples of such connections are central-to-local, ministry-to-ministry, executive-to-legislature, and decision maker-to-data store. Automation and informatisation support this by digitizing existing information channels. Transformation supports this by creating new digital channels. The Chinese case is a good example. There was recognition in the Chinese government that formulation and implementation of sustainable development strategies were hampered by lack of adequate information, and that much of the data underlying this information lay scattered in many different organizations. Therefore an ICT-enabled national Agenda 21 network was created, particularly linking a set of key national government, local government and public sector research institutions. The project also helped connect leading decision makers with valuable Web-based data resources on sustainable development. In addition to raising the profile of sustainable development with policy makers, the network has also helped bring faster and more information to the process of strategic environment decision making. SDNP (2000) SDNP China Helps to Implement Agenda 21, UNDP, and New York.

Creating empowerment
It can be done by transferring power, authority and resources for processes from their existing locus to new locations. Typically that transfer is to lower; more localized levels of the public sector and may be seen as decentralization. Transformation supports this by creating new information flows to decision makers and process implementers in new locations. The rationale is to reduce the costs and increase the speed of processes and decision making and to create more flexible and responsive processes. The South African case is a good example. The ANC-led government in South Africa is making extensive use of ICTs in its bid to democratize a public sector run for decades largely by, and for, an Afrikaner minority. Attempting to reinvent itself, Johannesburg Metropolitan Council initiated an intranet project. This was intended to break apartheid-legacy information flows and give all staff access to both formal and informal information sources. Careful design (analyzed further in section D2) ensured that the project was a success. Council processes have become local community leaders as well. Benjamin, P, (2001)"Community development and democratization through technology: building the new South Africa; in Reinventing Government in the Information Age, R.B. Heeks (ed.), Routledge, London 194-210.

e-governance initiatives of NIC in Manipur:
National Informatics Centre (NIC) was started in the year 1975. It was funded by UNDP projects. It has grown exponentially as Central government nodal agency for e-governance. NIC since its inception has been playing a catalytic role of ITfor development in India. Some of the works of NIC can be mentioned here as follows:

1. Data warehousing and mining
2. IT Trainings for government employees-IT empowerment
3. NICNET Services (Internet & Videos-conferences) and
4. Total IT Solution.

There are various branches of NIC in India at different levels- district levels, block levels. It has extended in the northeastern states of India through Community Information Centre (CIC) to facilitate government to citizen (G2C) services. This was also to bridge the digital divide between the remote northeastern states and the mainland of the country. Some of the e-governance initiatives are worth mentioning here.

1. State and District Web Portal
2. Departments & important events websites
3. Automation like LRC, VAHAN, Payroll and many others at various departments
4. Approach paper on e-governance in Manipur
5. Capacity building -IT empowerment
6. Infrastructure provider (Country-Statewide network), etc.

Implication of e-governance
e-governance has important policy implication for resource mobilization of the State. It can significantly reduce the cost of administration on the one hand and maximize the revenue on the other hand. At the same time, it can promote accountability and transparency in the functioning of public sector enterprises. It can transform the society into an ICT driven economy by providing opportunity for employment and promoting economic growth and development. NIC's expertise and experience in ICT may well be tapped for a successful implementation of e-governance in Manipur. The ICT policy of Manipur should also cover the security aspect to enable transaction of e-commerce and implement in order to transform the State into business hub with proposed South East Asian Trans Highway from Thailand to India via Myanmar. And ultimately it can transform our society into an informed and intelligent society what we called as i-society.

Courtesy: Sangai Express

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