It is the asset declaration time. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) mandates every public official to declare annual assets to keep an eye on assets of public officials to prevent corruption or prevent and detect illicit enrichment.
Many public officials, however, could not file it. They are frustrated with the online asset declaration system. They are scared too. The online system to ease declaration is not user-friendly. Now, it has completely crashed.
This comes at a time after the country embarked on an ambitious journey to digitalise Bhutan to improve public service delivery. While some online systems have reduced time, enhanced accessibility and enabled citizens to avail services easier and faster, many remain down most of the time forcing people to lose confidence in the system.
Many services of the G2C system accept applications only from 9am to 5pm and limit its service, defeating the whole purpose of digitalisation and enhanced public service delivery.
Financial institutions and private citizens have fallen prey to scammers after relying on online services. This happened even with a Credit Information Bureau in place.
Those with technical backgrounds claim our investments in online systems are limited to just having the online system in place without sustained maintenance or training budget. Many public servants, in fact, use the online system as an excuse for their incompetency or non-performance. The most common phrase amongst service providers is ‘system mi tu bay’.
Our systems are developed by agencies through contracts, but rumours are rife that our Bhutanese firms are just the face for developers from neighbouring countries. When the system developer does not have the liability and accountability to keep it running, it fails. The system development contracts should include the responsibility to maintain the system.
However, the bigger problem than the non-functioning online system is when those responsible refuse to acknowledge the problem.
In the ongoing asset declaration fiasco, ACC officials owe an explanation to the public. They cannot remain silent. Just brushing off media queries or public grievances shows they are not being accountable to the public. Some are waiting for ACC to question them for not declaring their assets.
With no records and information about how many public officials were detected as being corrupt through the asset declaration system, it is also time to change it if it is not serving the purpose.
If we are serious about the use of information, communications and technology (ICT) for development, it is time to show. Just having online systems is not enough. We need systems that are running and facilitating service delivery.