Governments are seldom popular with the people for apprehension about those entrusted with responsibility to govern. Apart from distrust, governments’ reputation depends upon quality of service provided. A common man is dependent on government service from dusk to dawn, from cradle to grave and from home to work. These services range from simpler one like traffic ticket to as complicated as property disputes.
Nobody is happy with government services in our country and one cannot blame our citizens for that. Public services suffer from five major ills. One, their supply is too limited as compared to demand. This can be attributed to general scarcity of resources but those services for which institutions are lined up and paid for, are also not available. Secondly, when services are available, the quality is poor and delivery is dismal. Thirdly, the meager and poor quality services are inefficiently provided resulting in waste of time for service recipients and citizens. To make matters worse, citizens are coerced to pay bribes for services meant and designed for them and lastly in addition to all the inconvenience, people have to suffer humiliation due to often insulting attitude of public servants.
Is there a way out of this governance crisis?. Policy makers and conscientious leaders have grappled with this issue for a long time. Words like reforms and revamp have been thrown here and there with the cynical ones have even prayed for revolution at the cost of disorder, but none succeeded. Success in public service has remained an elusive dream barring few exceptions and sporadic islands of excellence. Those too have been costly and need constant monitoring and attention from the very top. A systematic intervention in governance at all levels has been long due.
As in other aspects of our personal and social lives, technology is the magical wand. The ubiquitous IT services have promised to be the silver bullet which can bring meaningful improvements in the quality and quantity of public services. Public sector as den of status quo and inertia has resisted for long to embrace this new dawn. Path dependency and conservatism are also hallmark of our government services and only a systematic, consistent and gradual push could usher digital reforms.
Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) has provided this push. No change of-course is possible without a change agent. Its dynamic Chairman Dr Umar Saif has proved to be that change agent and policy entrepreneur who has capitalised on the policy window provided by need and demand for quick, efficient and friendly public services. This new governance revolution is slow, silent and gradual but is transforming the public sector organizations with information and communication technology. The silent change is by no means less significant and is bringing fundamental governance changes by dividing government functions into back office or internal and front line or public functions. The public functions are being designed to be user friendly in a comfortable environment while internal functions focus on integration to save time and resources.
The modern state is a virtual state and modern society is transparent society. No government service can afford to be not digitised and not virtually available. The list of clients of PITB is long and eclectic with outliers like land revenue and spoilers like Police. PITB has been responsible for running an effective and reliable Hajj Management and Information System right from transparent balloting to monitoring of pilgrims, many of them old and not literate. Smart Monitoring of Schools is an innovative and comprehensive system which monitors attendance of ten million students in fifty thousand plus public schools. Due to this system, teacher and student attendance now hovers around ninety percent in the province with efficient monitoring of school facilities as well. E-stamping is another landmark imitative and ensures provision of electronic stamp papers mandatory for property transfer and other legal functions. Not only their availability manually is a big problem but the possibility of fraud was also higher. PITB has also been at the forefronts in crises like situations as dengue, polio and floods and not only covered all affected areas but also ensured early warning, relief and assistance.
Nowhere else, PITB’s assistance has been more rewarding and transformative than the changes in justice sector. Police has been at the forefront with crime mapping, criminal record digitisation and complaint management system at the police stations. Similar interventions are underway in Lahore High Court and other subordinate courts. Similarly the automated driving licenses and motor vehicle management information systems have not only minimised possibility of fake documents but also make it possible to verify these form anywhere in the world.
PITB’s initiative and assistance has been extended recently to the province of Sindh as well as in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. This gradual technological revolution is promising and above all is here to stay. There is no way but forward in embracing the IT related reforms which are neutral, holistic and do not cost much. PITB team has ushered in new culture of service delivery which can cure the ills of inefficiency and corruption, and can ensure effectiveness and attitudinal change. It has jolted the public servants from their slumber and made them accountable and available wherever it went. However PITB can only do so much and the onus now lies with those in the field having direct and day-to-day contact with public and those who supervise them. This new era of governance needs to be acknowledged and replicated if our public services hope to be respected in the eyes of public.