SMART Governance in times of COVID-19
Syed Asim Ali Bukhari
When the word ‘Global Village’ was coined in 1964 not many people could have envisioned that the concept would develop so dynamically and profoundly in just a few decades. The world has taken the shape of an extended central nervous system where all the components and functions are synergistically connected through an amalgam of latest technologies. Although the past year has been a time of social distancing, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition towards virtual inter-connectivity through SMART eco-systems. SMART Governments are being formed around the globe in the form real-time nexus of various public sector data and processes. Singapore government has developed a SMART Government setup that bundles public sector services according to ‘Moments of Life’. All the public sector offerings that may be required by its citizens, falling within a certain age range, are offered on a virtually connected, on-stop SMART Government platform. Indian Government is investing billions of dollars in the development of SMART cities that will serve as a hub for the development of SMART Economy, SMART Mobility, SMART education, SMART health services, and SMART living.
Due to the vision of the Prime Minister Imran Khan, digitalization is making its mark in Pakistan as well and has substantially improved the efficiency of various public sector departments and processes. However, the individual digitalization of various government departments cannot ensure the development of a SMART Government. Pakistan needs to move forward towards the implementation of SMART Governance system through interconnecting and synergizing all the public sector departments digitally. This will in turn ensure the provision of a one-stop solution to the citizens for their public sector service needs through a single online portal. Under the SMART Governance system, all public-sector departments such as NADRA, FBR, health, education, and financial services will be virtually interconnected and their services will be available to the citizens through a single portal. For example, currently if a pensioner passes away, his family has to go to various departments separately for updating the record but under a SMART Governance system, the deceased status will only be updated in NADRA which will digitally share the data with all other concerned departments like banks or employer organization in real time basis. The Pakistan Citizen Portal developed by the Government is a great initiative in this direction but it should be expanded from a complaint to a facilitation portal where citizens can get all the digital public services like Kamyab Jawan Program, Citizen Complain, E-Vaccination program, Land Records Management & Information Systems (LRMIS), Tax filling, etc. through an online application. In this way instead of visiting and registering on separate government applications and websites, citizens will only need to create a single digital ID on the SMART Government portal and get all services from there.
The transition towards a SMART eco-system can further be augmented through the development of SMART cities. Government of Pakistan can create SMART eco-systems within various developmental projects like the Gwadar city, Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme, River Ravi Front Urban Development Project, or the various under-developed islands. These projects can be developed as SMART cities offering the citizens a digitalized, environmentally friendly and economically sustainable living area. The steps taken in the direction of SMART Governance will complement the ‘Clean and Green Pakistan’ vision of the Prime Minister, Mr. Imran Khan, because development through digitalization can help ensure environmentally sustainable growth. The digitalization of the country’s legal & justice system through paper-less systems can also ensure transparent and timely justice provision to the citizens. In addition to the citizen facilitation, the development of SMART Governance can play an important role in solving various corruption and money laundering issues plaguing Pakistan. The connectivity, transparency and sharing of data within public sector departments can help ensure real-time tracking of the citizen’s money trail which is a major concern of the FATF with respect to Pakistan’s financial system. A Smart and digital government system will be better able to implement and monitor various AML/CFT initiatives. Digitalization will automatically translate to less corruption.
All over the world, Governments are increasingly building SMART ecosystems to solve some of the important environmental and social issues including health care, mobility, education, and workforce development. SMART technology can also play an important role in bringing government services to underprivileged areas that have lacked them. Realigning the government ideology towards SMART Governance instead of separated and individual digitalization of different economic sectors is vital for the sustainable development of Pakistan. Data availability, connectivity, and accuracy lies at the heart of the SMART Governance ideology. One of the biggest obstacles being faced by the public sector in Pakistan in adopting various Industry 4.0 technologies is the lack of updated and reliable data. This is due to the absence of any real-time connectivity within the various Government departments. Availability of funds, supportive infrastructure, and technology are also the basic pillars of this ideology, unfortunately all of which needs much development in Pakistan. Stakeholder awareness is lacking and high level of skepticism exits among the citizens with respect to adoption of digital solutions. It is time to plan and act SMART and start working on our system and policy pitfalls hindering Pakistan’s true digital transformation.