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Punjab leads using Information Technology to improve services

Technology
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Saud Bin Ahsan |

Information and communication technology (ICT) has become an indispensable tool in improving service delivery. In this competitive era, most regions of the world are striving to have core competencies in improving service delivery and governance through the use of ICT.

Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan, is striving to adopt modern ICT through E-Governance initiatives in order to improve governance for better public service delivery. Over the past couple of years, Government of the Punjab has taken many initiatives pertaining to e-Governance, including ICT-enabled provision of services through online services portals.

Widespread information sharing as well as experiences with other industries such as banking, travel, retail and entertainment mean that citizens’ expectations for technology enabled government services have raised significantly in recent years.

E-Government refers to the delivery of government information and services via the internet or other digital means to citizens (C) or businesses (B) or other governmental agencies (G). E-government includes electronic interactions of three types: G2G; G2B and its reverse; and G2C, and its reverse. E-government is a one-stop internet gateway to major government services. It is the public sector’s use of ICT with the aim of improving information and service delivery, encouraging citizen participation in the decision making process and making government more accountable, transparent and effective. In addition e-governance involves delivering services to the public via internet, telephone, public facilitation centres or other communication and information systems.

The key benefits of using e governance system are to provide single window system for delivery of services and information to the citizens thus providing integrated and simplified solutions to citizens.  E-governance can bring about efficiency and effective service delivery to the citizens and quick service delivery at a decentralized level.

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The Punjab government considers ICT as the main engine of economic growth, good governance, transparency and accountability. Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) is executing a large number of projects with use of ICT based solution for improvement of various business processes across a number of departments including Police, Health, Transport, Education and Public Prosecution Departments and the Lahore High Court.

The main objective of executing such projects is to enhance efficiency of the government departments and provision of quality services to citizens. Another key objective is to make requisite data readily available that is required for decision making. Since 2011, the PITB has deployed “smart monitoring” to address several well-known challenges of service delivery. Making use of the mobile phone penetration and fast growing smart phone usage, PITB has developed a cellular phone-based technological solution to help public departments to monitor their own work and by proactively reaching out to citizens for feedback on the quality of service delivery.

The concerned departments have developed necessary alterations in their business processes and induction of automation so as to utilize most of the centers and the public gains an utmost benefit.

Continuity of E-Governance applications already established under “Citizen Facilitation & Service Centers” along with “Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program” in order to introduce transparency, efficiency and minimize corruption using E-tools.

Smart Monitoring to curb Dengue

Smart monitoring was initiated in 2011 to curb a massive outbreak of the dengue epidemic in the province. In only one year, this system led to actively curb the menace of dengue. The initiative has been up-scaled to cover the effective provision of a wide range of public services. The dengue tracking system has been scaled up to a disease surveillance system which tracks over 20 communicable diseases. As the anti-dengue campaign progressed, PITB bought 1,500 Android phones and kept refining the applications.

The system was used by 17 different government departments and hundreds of field workers, and the system has received over 200,000 pictures from all over Punjab. PITB developed more applications that enabled field entomologists to report Aedes Larvae clusters, as well as health workers to GPS tag the houses of the confirmed patients. With this data flowing in, PITB built a state-of-the-art epidemic early warning system, which statistically analyzed the larvae reports and patient locations, and raised red flags wherever it detected a potential outbreak. This information was promptly shared with the local government to help target its activities in the most vulnerable areas.

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PPMRP covers technological interventions in seven key departments: Agriculture, Livestock and Dairy Development, School Education, Health, Excise and Taxation, Irrigation and the Board of Revenue.

This system has led to a full-blown real-time disease surveillance system in Punjab, tracking all 26 WHO notified infectious diseases. Cross-verification of data from the dashboard has become a common practice in the government. Encouraged by the success of PITB’s system for tracking disease outbreaks, the PITB has been working on numerous applications to help the government monitor its own work. Drug inspectors now carry smartphones to report their visits to pharmacy outlets; visits of livestock EDOs are tracked using smartphone applications;

Lahore police uses smartphone applications to analyze crime hotspots; agriculture extension workers report their activities using our smartphone applications; the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) uses smartphone applications to report its cleaning activities after Eidul Azha; this year, monitoring of Hajj facilities for pilgrims was done using our smartphone-based applications. Such is the adoption of the systems that on the average over 25,000 geo-tagged activities are uploaded by the LWMC during the Eid days each year.

Since then, the Livestock and Agriculture Extension Services has tracked the activities of thousands of veterinary and agricultural workers through smart phones and compiled a database of 1.2 million farmers who can be reached out through SMS or phone-calls for target-awareness campaigns to help enhance yields and prevent disease outbreak.

With the help of Crime Mapping, occurrence of crime is monitored across both space and time dimensions. It helps the Police Department to allocate and deploy resources and to take evidence-based managerial decisions.

Another application has been developed to ensure the effective and verifiable monitoring of public schools across the province of Punjab. This intervention has equipped the Monitoring and Evaluation Assistants (MEAs) with tablets through which they are able to enter data on-site. This data is received in real-time, making it easy for officials to take immediate action. Similarly, the School Monitoring System is being evolved to conduct on the spot student evaluations to make recommendations for the curriculum.

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This year, monitoring of Hajj facilities for pilgrims was done using our smartphone-based applications. Such is the adoption of the systems that on the average over 25,000 geo-tagged activities are uploaded by the LWMC during the Eid days each year.

The World Bank-funded Punjab Public Management Reform Program (PPMRP) has widely mainstreamed these innovations across the provincial government. PPMRP covers technological interventions in seven key departments: Agriculture, Livestock and Dairy Development, School Education, Health, Excise and Taxation, Irrigation and the Board of Revenue. In 2013 and 2014, PITB launched several key technological initiatives under PPMRP along with the recent Establishment of Public Call Centers for citizen centric delivery. The objective is to improve citizens’ access to information provided by targeted Departments, to reduce the transaction cost for citizens and opportunities for abuse by public functionaries, middlemen and field-level service providers.

Government of the Punjab is proactively reaching out to citizens to verify the results of its smartphone-monitoring, and also solicits feedback on service delivery quality. With around 12 million citizens contacted it plays a key role in addressing the challenges of petty corruption, an excellent data analytics system has been put in place to ensure that every district takes action on the feedback received from the beneficiaries of various services. Over 60 smart phone applications have been designed for public departments and many more are in the pipeline.

Furthermore, in order to facilitate the public in interacting with various government departments/ agencies the Government of the Punjab had decided to establish Public Facilitation and Service Centers named as “e- Khidmat Markaz”. To implement the initiative, the Chief Minister Punjab has issued direction/orders to establish these public facilitation and service centers in phased manner. Initially one center in each Divisional Head quarter had been directed to be established.

The services offered by many federal and provincial level organizations have been combined under one roof so that the public at large may get benefit from these centers. The services including CNIC, armed license, birth / death/ marriage/ divorce registration, fard-issuance record only, domicile, traffic fine collection, issuance of route permit, services provided by local government and district administration, motor vehicle registration and token tax collection services etc. may be included depending upon the capacity and extent of automation already made by these department internally. The concerned departments have developed necessary alterations in their business processes and induction of automation so as to utilize most of the centers and the public gains an utmost benefit.

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The main objective of executing such projects is to enhance efficiency of the government departments and provision of quality services to citizens. Another key objective is to make requisite data readily available that is required for decision making.

Setting up facilitation centers across Punjab has helped the Government of the Punjab to achieve the objectives like empowerment of citizens by providing easy access to public services, effective, efficient, prompt and hassle free as well as corruption free service delivery, greater accountability and transparency, extending access to un-served group, and last but not the least minimizing cost to public and the government.

Currently, e-Khidmat Centers are functional in 9 divisional headquarters. The guaranteed turnaround time for providing service delivery to the citizen is core idea behind the service delivery. Per-service timelines are fixed and signed off with the service delivery department. Data is fetched through the online service portals to the relevant department and the service is provided to the citizen within time. Till now 150,000 plus applications have been processed through e-Khidmat Centers with the timely delivery rate of more than 99.8%. Citizen have access to the status of the information about their service requests and they are able to check the status either by calling helpline (080009100) or sending and SMS with tracking number to 9100 or through FC web portal.

Similar model of service delivery is also in practice in India with the name of ‘E-Seva’ Centers in different states of India. In India there is legal cover for this service delivery via “Right to Services Act” wherein completeness of definition and the requisite timelines are fixed. There are also rules to penalize those officials which hinder timely delivery of service.

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New developments in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) are fundamentally changing the way people live, work and interact with each other. Shifts to digital technology such as the rapid rise in the use of mobile devices and widespread information sharing as well as experiences with other industries such as banking, travel, retail and entertainment mean that citizens’ expectations for technology enabled government services have raised significantly in recent years. ICT’s are being used in almost every part of the world, from developing to developed countries.

Saud Bin Ahsen is Post-Grad student of Public Administration at Institute of Administrative Sciences (IAS), University of the Punjab, Lahore and associated with a Think Tank Institute. He is interested in Comparative Public Administration, Post-Colonial Literature, and South Asian Politics. He can be reached at saudzafar5@gmail.com

 

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