Online migration making headway

Yearender/ICT: While information and communications technology continues to advance, the past year showed that our legislation and capabilities to counter cyber crime have remained more or less static.

Despite it being a crime, several locally made pornographic movie clips were shared by users of a mobile application – WeChat.  When the issue first surfaced, the police and the Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, the two most relevant law enforcement agencies, repeatedly pointed out that no action could be taken until a written complaint was received.

While a few arrests were made eventually, both the public and police are in agreement that existing laws on cybercrime need to be updated, in terms of harsher penalties and proactive enforcement.

In August, a high level meeting, involving the prime minister, resolved that the InfoComm and Media Act would be updated to solve these legislative shortcomings.  It was also decided that the police would receive the necessary support to enhance their undermanned and under-equipped cybercrime unit, and that the Office of the Attorney General would also establish its own specialised cyber crime unit.

It what many felt confirmed the IT park’s white elephant label, its major shareholding company, the Assetz Property Group (APG), pulled out of Bhutan, citing a number of reasons, including difficulty in attracting tenants.  Druk Holding and Investments purchased APG’s share and assumed full ownership in October.

However, there have been positive developments at the park this year.  One of its commercial tenants already employs 250 Bhutanese youth and plans to employ even more.  A Swiss software development company currently piloting at the park also plans to upscale operations this year, while another from Bangladesh recently opened an office there, with plans to upscale as well.  Local companies, like Bhutan Telecom (BT), have also begun renting commercial space at the park.

There are around 300 Bhutanese youth employed at the park today, which, its advocates say, is enough reason to vindicate it off its white elephant label.

The effort to transition to an e-government gained valuable political support the past year.  The prime minister took over the under utilised G2C (government to citizen) service, developed between 2010-13 at a cost of USD 1M, to ensure it reaches its full potential.  An assessment is currently underway to identify and prioritise core services, and to develop an accountability system to ensure agencies deliver these services within a certain time.

Despite opposition to the move, the government also decided to transfer management of its community centres from Bhutan Post to the Bhutan Development Bank ltd, as part of an effort to bring banking services to all gewogs.

The government also began recognising agencies for better e-service delivery, and civil servants for contributions to the IT sector.  A website competition and the awarding of prizes for “IT champions” was introduced this year.

In a bid to secure its data and be more efficient, the government began using Google Apps, an online office suite, in June.  While there was initial reluctance among some agencies and civil servants to switch to their new Google accounts, by December, more than 80 percent of an activated 4,355 accounts were being actively used.  The government is paying around Nu 1,900 or USD 30 for each account in its first year of subscription.

The past year also marked the fourth year of the Chiphen Rigpel project designed to make Bhutan an IT-enabled society.  So far, more than 100,000 Bhutanese have been trained under the project.  The Nu 2.05B project ends this year.

Bhutan’s first ever international IT and training event, which saw IT personnel from seven countries attend, was held in the past year.  The event will be held annually to help in knowledge transfer, and to attract foreign direct investment in the IT sector.

More recently, a tier-III data centre, which guarantees that its services will be available through 99 percent of the year, was recently opened by BT in Phuentsholing.

While attending the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) plenipotentiary conference in South Korea in October, the information and communications minister, DN Dhungyel, declared that Bhutan would bridge its internet broadband connectivity digital divide by 2020.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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