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Public Sector and Governance

Exploring Digital India's transformative plans

Rajendra Kumar's picture
In August 2014, the Government of India approved Digital India, an ambitious national program aimed at transforming India into a knowledge economy and making government services more efficient and available to all citizens electronically. Over the next three years, the program envisions a national optical fiber network will connect thousands of India’s most distant gram panchayats — village-level governments — with a total population of more than 800 million.

This infrastructure will support government reform and change the way services are delivered. It is also expected that the program will help create thousands of new IT jobs, give a boost to the domestic manufacturing of electronics and, as a spin-off effect, lead to emergence of new services and flourishing e-commerce.
 
India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) is the agency that help develop and now is driving the implementation of this transformative agenda. We asked Dr. Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary for e-Government, to tell us more about Digital India, the challenges this program is meant to address and the solutions that are envisaged. Read Dr. Kumar’s selected responses below, and click here to download the full version of the interview.

Digital India, the ambitious initiative of the Indian Government, aims to bridge digital divide and bring high-speed Internet and government services to the rural and underprivileged parts of the country by 2019. What are the key development challenges that Digital India is addressing and why was investment in ICTs chosen as the main solution?

India is sitting on the cusp of a big information technology (IT) revolution. We have to leverage our massive Indian talent and information and communication technologies (ICTs) as growth engines for a better India tomorrow. This is embodied in the following statement: IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow).

Greek tragedy: 'Sleepwalking' toward an economic abyss, with eurozone fears pervading the Spring Meetings

Christopher Colford's picture

“All roads lead to Rome” may have been true in ancient times, but policymakers during this Spring Meetings season in Washington have been focused on another classical crossroads: All roads now lead to Athens, as the intensifying eurozone crisis is again stoking fears that Greece may soon “crash out” of the European common currency system – potentially dealing a severe shock to the still-fragile global financial markets.

“The discussions about Greece have pervaded every meeting” during this fast-forward week of finance and diplomacy, said the United Kingdom’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. That viewpoint was reinforced by a studious chronicler of the Greek drama’s daily details, Chris Giles of The Financial Times, who asserted – in an unusually dismissive swipe – that “the antics of Greece dominated the Spring Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.”

The Greece-focused anxiety was palpable to many Spring Meetings attendees, judging by the number of corridor conversations and solemn sidebars that dwelled on the eurozone drama – especially on the Fund’s side of 19th Street NW. While most forums and panels on the Bank’s side of the street focused on the progress of many developing countries, events at the Fund seemed consumed by the policy contortions within Greece's faltering economy, as Meetings-goers monitored every tremble of their text messages to follow the week’s the week’s staccato bulletin-bulletin-bulletin news of Greece’s financial flailing.

“The mood is notably more gloomy than at the last international gathering,” said Osborne, “and it’s clear . . . that a misstep or miscalculation on either side [of the Greece negotiations] could easily return European economies to the kind of perilous situation we saw three to four years ago.” Having received a $118 billion bailout in May 2010 and a second package of $139 billion in October 2011, Greece is now at an impasse with its creditors: the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission. A new government in Greece – having denounced the loan conditions reluctantly accepted by its predecessor governments – is debating how, or whether, it should comply with lenders’ pressure for far-reaching reform. Greece's foot-dragging has exasperated the lenders even as Greece envisions a potential third bailout program.

As the Greek tragedy unfolds, the doleful observation of Wolfgang Münchau in the FT seems all too apt: “Until last week, discussions with Greece did not go well. That changed when the circus of international financial diplomacy moved to Washington for the Spring Meetings. Then it became worse.”

How can we leverage innovations and MOOCS for citizen engagement?

Abha Joshi-Ghani's picture



Imagine a group of researchers, students, civil society organizations, development practitioners and professors from the London School of Economics all gathered together for a lively event to discuss the first World Bank MOOC on Citizen Engagement.

Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia

Sanjay Kathuria's picture



Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.

To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.[1]

At the end of this process, the expected output is a paper meeting rigorous academic standards and at a stage suitable for presentation and debate in academic seminar/workshops/conferences. In particular, the insights from the research are expected to be presented and discussed during World Bank sponsored events.

This call is open to PhD students who have already completed their Ph. D. coursework and young economists who have recently completed their PhD (by 2010 or after).[2]  

The criteria for the grant are as follows:

Will South Asia make the most of cheap oil?

Markus Kitzmuller's picture

The world economy today presents itself as a diverse canvas full of challenges and opportunities. Advanced economies continue to struggle towards recovery, with the US on its way to tighten monetary policy as the economy picks up while a still weak Eurozone awaits quantitative easing to kick in. At the same time, plunging oil prices have set in motion significant real income shifts from exporters to importers of oil. Astonishingly, amidst all this turmoil, South Asia has emerged as the fastest growing region in the world over the second half of 2014. Led by a strong India, South Asia is set to further accelerate from 7 percent real growth in 2015 to 7.6 percent by 2017, leaving behind a slowing East Asia gradually landed in second spot by China.



While bolstered by record low inflation and strong external positions across the region, the biggest question yet to be addressed by policy makers in South Asia will be how to make the most of cheap oil.
All countries are net oil importers as well as large providers of fuel and related food subsidies, therefore bound to benefit from low oil prices. However, the biggest oil price dividend to be cashed in by South Asia is one yet to be earned, and not one that will automatically transit through government or consumer accounts. The current constellation of macroeconomic tailwinds provides a unique opportunity for policy makers to rationalize energy prices and to improve fiscal policy. Decoupling external oil prices from fiscal deficits may decrease vulnerability to future oil price hikes – something that may very well happen in the medium term. Furthermore, cheap oil offers a great opportunity to introduce carbon taxation and address the negative externalities from the use of fossil fuels.

The World Bank’s latest South Asia Economic Focus (April 2015) titled “Making the most of cheap oil” provides deeper insights regarding South Asia’s diverse policy challenges and opportunities stemming from cheap oil.
A first major realization is that the pass through from oil prices to domestic South Asian economies is as diverse as the countries themselves, thanks to a variety of different policy environments across countries and oil products. This is also reflected in recent dynamics, seeing India taking determined action towards rationalizing fuel and energy prices, even introducing a de facto carbon tax and beginning to reap fiscal and environmental benefits. Other countries have so far shown less or no enthusiasm towards reform, in spite of significant and/or increasing oil dependency (particularly in electricity generation, one of the region’s weak spots). 

History in the making: 'Policy relevance' and long perspective, with the Spring Meetings starting a series of summits

Christopher Colford's picture

History “is a critical science for questioning short-term views, complicating simple stories about causes and consequences, and discovering roads not taken. Historical thinking – and not just by those who call themselves historians – can and should inform practice and policy today. . . . History can upset the established consensus, expand narrow horizons, and ‘keep the powerful awake at night.’ In that mission lies the public future of the past.” -- "The History Manifesto"
 
Lace up your running shoes and summon your stamina: At the starting line of the Spring Meetings sprint, policymakers and economy-watchers are now poised for an adrenaline-fueled week of debates on diplomacy and development at the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund.
 
History hangs heavily over the Bank and Fund this week, amid an animating awareness that “2015 is the most important year for global development in recent memory,” as World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim declared in a speech last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In an environment that has provoked dire warnings by the IMF’s Christine Lagarde about the danger of prolonged low-growth, high-unemployment “secular stagnation” – with “the new mediocre” threatening to become “the new normal” – this week’s meetings will be just the starting-point in a series of events in 2015 that could define the development agenda for decades.

A July conference in Addis Ababa will determine the financing mechanisms for future development initiatives. A September summit at the United Nations in New York will adopt a detailed set of Sustainable Development Goals. A December forum in Paris will adopt – or reject – a worldwide treaty to restrain climate change. Along the way, the Bank and Fund will convene policymakers – in Lima rather than Washington – for the Annual Meetings in October.

Pulling off a success at any one such summit would be a dramatic achievement. Delivering triumphs at all three summits might require masterstrokes of diplomacy.

“When we look at the longer-term picture,” said Kim in his CSIS speech, “we see that the decisions made this year will have an enormous impact on the lives of billions of people across the world for generations to come." The challenges that Kim and Lagarde analyzed in their pre-Spring Meetings speeches require “governments [to] seize the moment” – starting this week – if they hope for success in the Addis-UN-Paris trifecta.
 

The benefits of e-Visas, and how to overcome implementation challenges

Radu Cucos's picture
The Electronic Visa (e-Visa) has emerged as one of the most innovative services implemented in the area of freedom of movement and people-to-people contacts.

E-Visa allows the management of the visa application process to take place entirely in a virtual environment. Everything is done with the help of the Internet: the visa application and supporting documents are submitted online, the payment is made online and the decision on the application is communicated online. Some of the best examples of e-Visa services I have encountered are implemented by the authorities of Australia, Turkey, New Zealand and Georgia.
 
Serving as Chief Information Officer at the Moldovan Foreign Service, I had the opportunity to lead the development of the Moldova e-Visa Service in partnership with the World Bank’s eTransformation project.

The Moldovan e-Visa service was launched on August 1, 2014. So far, we can make the following observations and conclusions about the benefits of e-Visa:

Crystallizing a digital strategy in the "Pearl of Arabia"

Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi's picture
Known as the “Pearl of Arabia“ for its stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage, the Sultanate of Oman is also striving to adopt economic reforms that are in accordance with global market expectations and demands of our time. The country is currently undergoing a transition to a knowledge-based economy as outlined in its economic vision 2020. Information and communication technologies are at the core of this transformation, serving as the key enabler of economic diversification.
 
A view of Muscat, Oman's capital.
Photo: Andrew Moore, flickr

Oman’s national e-Governance initiative — which is called eOman — came into effect in 2003 and since then has been serving as the main framework for Oman’s digital transformation, including ICT industry and infrastructure development, creation of better public services and development of human capital. Since 2009, Oman has been consistently recognized by the United Nations Public Service Programme for its efforts.
 
We asked Dr. Salim Sultan Al-Ruzaiqi, Chief Executive Officer of the Information Technology Authority (ITA) of Oman — the agency responsible for the implementation of eOman strategy — to share with us the key solutions his agency has been working on to tackle the country’s development challenges and to highlight some of the lessons learned. Read Dr. Al-Ruzaiqi’s selected responses below, or download the full version of the interview here

Can you tell us some of the key points of the Oman Digital Strategy (e.oman)?
Let me start first by emphasizing that His Majesty’s grand vision of diversifying the Omani economy was the key driver of embarking on developing and implementing e.oman. This grand vision was set out in the economic vision 2020 that included transforming Oman into a sustainable knowledge based society. In His address to Oman Council in November 2008, His Majesty stressed the need to develop the technological and practical skills of citizens and provide them with the resources and training required to enhance their capabilities and incentivize them to seek knowledge. His Majesty also directed the Government to simplify processes, adopt technology in its daily operation, and focus on electronic delivery of its services.

Big steps toward Ghana’s digital future

Kaoru Kimura's picture
“Digitization” is a relatively niche topic in within information and communication technology (ICT), but the demand for “digitization” in the development field has grown significantly over the last few years, especially in Africa.

When we say “digitization”, you may think that it is just scanning or capturing paper records into a digital format. That’s partially correct, but the actual work cycle of digitization goes beyond what you think. It includes the whole process of transforming the data on paper records into “digital data,” which we can identify, search, access, retrieve, update, and archive electronically.

The steps toward digitization start with categorizing physical (original) paper records (e.g. sorting, listing and boxing) and assessment of the volume of workload.  The depth and potential impact of digitization is huge. The digitized records will reduce errors and transaction costs in public administration. They will also improve government accountability and the quality of national statistics.

Eventually, digitization will support more timely and accurate data to a country’s Open Data Portal. Digital public records data from different government entities could be integrated, and eventually the government will provide more seamless and efficient public service delivery (e.g. births registry linked to issuance of national ID, passport or driver’s license). In addition, the process of “digitization” will result in the creation of digital job opportunities for unemployed youth who have been trained to digitize records.

Through collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation’s “Digital Jobs in Africa” initiatives, our team delivered a Digitization Capacity Building Program late last year. The main objective of this program was to build the institutional capacity of priority government agencies that are managing critical public records and therefore have a powerful need for digitization.

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