… much needs to be done, says the international report 

Younten Tshedup 

Bhutan has advanced from the medium E-Government Development Index (EGDI) in 2018 to a high-level EGDI group this year according to the United Nations (UN) latest E-Government survey.

Rising 23 places on the index, Bhutan is ranked 103 among the 193 UN member states. Bhutan was ranked 126 and 133 in the last two surveys in 2018 and 2016 respectively.

With the new standings, Bhutan is now listed as one of the leaders in digital government development among the 47 least-developed countries (LDCs) according to the report launched early this month.

The achievement is attributed to the recent improvements in the telecommunications infrastructure that has connected government offices, schools and hospitals, among others.

Also enabling internet connectivity and access to online services including business licenses and customs and trade approvals made up for the major leap in its position.

Officials from the Department of IT and Telecom (DITT) said that the digital skills for government officials and teachers through digital platforms,   international and regional cooperation, which resulted in the deployment of various e-Government systems also contributed to the higher ranking this year.

The UN E-Government Survey is conducted every two years to assess the e-government development status of the member states.

According to a press release from DITT, the report serves as the standard for member states to reflect on their efforts in driving the digital transformation of governance and public administration and also helps them understand what needs to improve.

The report highlighted that despite limited resources and geographical challenges, Bhutan displayed a higher online service index (OSI) level compared to the human capital index (HCI) and telecommunication infrastructure index (TII) levels. These are some of the parameters that every member states are assessed on for the overall EGDI.

The country also maintained a high level of E-Participation Index (EPI) ranking of 82, an improvement from 111 in 2018.

Officials said that one of the key aspects considered during the survey was the incorporation of e-participation features in government portals and websites as vital components of many interaction mechanisms.

Lessons and way  forward 

Officials said that although the country has consistently improved its e-Government ranking over the past surveys, there were many things to reflect and learn from other countries.

The report highlighted that in most of the developing countries there was a high digital skills gap. Because the e-Government initiatives benefit mainly the literate population, governments are advised to prioritise digital skills to bridge the skill gap.

It was found that the leading countries in the EGDI – Denmark, South Korea, Estonia and Finland – have adopted a legal framework for open government to regulate data sharing in open and machine-readable formats within the framework of data protection and privacy legislation.

Most of these countries have also drawn specific strategies for modern technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and deep machine learning to reap their potential benefits.

These countries were also found to be proactive in seeking feedback on the quality of services, collecting e-Government service usage statistics and publishing and sharing them. Citizens were also able to access real-time information on public services.

The report states that Bhutan including other member states have to invest in human capital development with an emphasis on high-level human capital development and public spending in education as it correlates positively with the e-government development index.

The survey also found a gap in the legal and policy framework for electronic transfers, data protection and information privacy including cybercrime prevention that needed to be bridged.

The report stated that a strong inter-regional digital cooperation is encouraged to tackle global challenges, as has been the case with the Covid-19 response strategy worldwide.

“Digital governance is not an end but a means to improve public service delivery and to increase people’s engagement towards enhancing transparency, accountability and inclusion,” the report states.