Yearender/IT: A revitalized G2C (government to citizen) Office made our headlines throughout the year of the Sheep, and for the right reasons. The office, which now operates directly under the supervision of a tech saavy Prime Minister, has been busy churning out electronic public services at a more acceptable rate than previous years.

Perhaps, the most groundbreaking one was the G2C Wallet, an online payment system for public services. There are more than 70 public services that require fees and even if a public service can be obtained online, fees would still have to be paid physically at an office. While starting off with only a small number of Thimphu thromde services the past year, a start has been made, and only more services can be expected to be incorporated under the G2C Wallet.

The government is also working on an e-payment gateway that will allow for inter-bank transfers for G2C services by June, this year.

The PM’s eDesk, an online monitoring tool that allows the Prime Minister to personally track how long government agencies take to process some online public service applications was also introduced. A few months later, the eDesk had caused the turnaround times for some services to drop.

During the one-year anniversary of the reformed G2C Office, the eKaasel, an online public grievance system was also launched, allowing citizens to provide feedback, positive and negative, on public service delivery. To make sure the IT illiterate are also involved, a G2C contact call centre was also introduced.

As part of its own effort to be efficient, the government chose to renew its Google Apps subscription for another three years rather than go for an open tender under ADB financing.

Use of the online suite has reduced time, costs, and paper. However, at the beginning of the year, full usage of Google Apps had not yet been achieved and low IT literacy and rigid mindsets were blamed.

In another development, the country’s first IT park now employs more than 600, and this number is expected to reach a thousand by the end of the Monkey year. A new problem has emerged. There’s not enough space at the IT park, which was for some time known as a fat “white elephant”.

The five-year ambitious Nu 2.05 billion Chiphen Rigpel project ended last year. The Indian government funded project directly trained an estimated 125,000 Bhutanese and indirectly impacted an estimated 200,000. The project established IT laboratories in schools, created a six-year IT curriculum, and trained teachers, civil servants, executive leaders, and monks.

The government got close to establishing a community centre in every gewog, with 195 this year. Operation of the centres was also handed over from Bhutan Post to the Bhutan Development Bank.

While many communities are benefitting from having closer access to public and financial services, some centres are reportedly still underutilized given their remote locations. The government is also yet to decide how to establish centres in the remaining gewogs, which are some of the remotest in the country.

Bhutan Telecom completed upgrading its system last year and some improvements are being experienced in terms of voice and 3G connectivity in Thimphu city. To further improve connectivity in the city, the company is re-introducing WiFi hotspots soon to decongest its 3G network.

As Bhutan moves into the Year of the Monkey, some issues remain to be worked on. Cyber security is one. The departing Indian Ambassador, Gautam Bambawale has offered India’s support in this field and Bhutan is also working on forming a division solely dedicated to this purpose.

For the growth of the sector, we are yet to determine our niche and how to capitalize on markets abroad. Questions remain if we can depend on our English and artistic skills alone to compete globally. Software development is occurring in the country already but for this to pick up, a stronger link between academic and industry will have to be established this year.

Currently, entrepreneurship remains the long term sustainable answer for the growth of the IT sector.

Concerns still persist in the private IT sector that their largest client, the government is outsourcing many IT contracts to international vendors.

Media literacy has to be tackled. While the social media policy has been approved and is expected to guide us in using social media, many of our youth and even adults tend to not question information online.

As access to technology and information grows this year, it is most important that our understanding of the internet grows alongside.

Gyalsten K Dorji