Interview

Sectoral Coherence for Better Governance : Philippe Dongier, Global Information and Communication Technology, World Bank

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Can you elaborate upon the various programmes for Public Private Partnerships being carried out under the World Bank’s Global Information and Communications Technologies (GICT) Programme?

The World Bank is involved in  Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in about 80 countries. Historically, the bank was particularly involved with telecommunications infrastructure, policies and regulatory framework. In the last five years, we have broadened our role and now in addition to telecommunications, we also work on e-Government and Information Technology (IT) applications. We also work on accelerating the growth of IT industry. There is a very developed global ICT industry in India as well as in other countries. This is the right sphere where the leverage of private sector can be promoted both in the terms of sectoral investments as well as operational capabilities.

World Bank works in the area of e-Government and IT. We have a number of cases where the Public Private Partnerships are very effective. For instance, if one looks at the custom system in Ghana, where the government and the private sector entered into a partnership and the private company made both the investment in the systems, software as well as the hardware. The private sector is running the custom system along with the government. This led to an increase in the custom revenue earnings of the country up to more than 50 percent. This incremental revenue accrues to the government, but a share of that revenue goes to the company who had invested in the project enabling the company to receive a satisfactory rate of return for motivating further investments. This is a situation where government receives a significant growth of revenue without taking risks itself. With the success of this PPP model, Ghana is extending the system to others sectors such as taxation and to several other sectors. In short, what we understand from the word ‘PPP’ model is that where risks and rewards are shared jointly by both the parties involved.

Some of the well conducted research carried out in the sphere of e-Governance reveals that 70 per cent of such projects across the globe have failed. What in your opinion are the lessons to be learnt from such failures?

First and foremost, we should make it clear that investment in IT involves high risks and high rewards. A survey revealed by Gartner says that the success rate is even lower in private sector investments. It is acceptable that the amount of risks are high and the  number of failures are also high. One such example is the e-Procurement in Korea, where the government invested approximately $ 80 million in a comprehensive national e-Procurement system. This has resulted in annual savings of more than $ 1 billion per year. There are two very important lessons to be learned. We keep talking about IT investments, but what is more important than IT investments is the organisational change that needs to go along with the technology. We have observed that in cases where IT has been useful in achieving significant gains, IT was one input which brought a broader reform, where the processes were transformed and the businesses were done, very differently. In that context services were improved for the citizens, transparency was improved and technology was one part of the broader change. Therefore, the focus should be more on management processes than on the technology alone.

World Bank has integrated the verticals of e-Governance and ICT. How will this strategy help in bringing ICT enabled services to the common man?

When we talk about the use of ICT for development, we consider specific sector applications that leads to better services for the common people. For instance, how ICT can be useful for teachers so that they can provide better education or how health workers can deliver better diagnosis by using information on a mobile device. This is where the development impact will indeed take place. The effectiveness of the investments will be much higher and the expenditure by the government will be more efficient if there are also key horizontals to enable coherence of investments and approaches across different sectors, ministries and levels of government. By this, I mean standards, interoperability farmeworks, shared infrastructure, policies that cut across sectors, so that different vertical systems work in a coherent fashion. Therefore, there is a need to integrate the verticals of sectoral applications in each sector such as health and education with those horizontal cross cutting elements.

We have experts from both the vertical as well as the horizontal sectors in the same department and this joint team works in support of the integrated sector programmes for using ICT strategically. We also work on a lot of policy advisory activities for various national e-Governance plans as well as state level policies; strategies and investment plans.

The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of India has been implemented for a couple of years now. What are your suggestions for improving the system?

The key to success is shown by countries which have achieved some progress in the domain of leadership. The leadership shown by the head of the government and head of each sector departments is very critical. Therefore, forming a shared vision and a shared sense of importance of e-Development opportunity with leaders in the top of the government and in each ministry is really essential. If we simply look at the experience of India and those states where significant changes have been made, one can easily see that a lot of that is a result of the function of leadership. This is an observation that is seen globally. For instance, in Estonia, the President places high importance on ICT. The country has leapfrogged the stages of development by adopting technology. This has been embraced across various government sectors and levels of government. And this is a result of the importance that the top leadership gave to e-Government.

In any country one needs to balance the need for cross sectoral and inter-governmental coherence with the need for ownership and initiatives by the specific agencies. In other words, you want a lot of ownership and initiatives by the provinces, the state government and the ministries of different sectors, who need to drive their own ICT programmes. At the same time, you need to balance it with the need for coherence across sectors and levels of government which then calls for more centrally driven programmes. This is an inherent tension that we see in every country and it is unavoidable, yet it is a desirable tension and the art is to find the right way of managing this tension.  

There is a lot of talk about the bottom up approach for taking governance and ICT to the grassroots. Do you think it is more of an idealistic approach?

If you look at the way IT is being adopted in the private sector, every business entity – small or big will have their own IT plans. They will determine their own business needs and make their own investments plans. Similarly, every local government and every village government may need to drive its own IT needs and can take its own initiatives so that the tools of their leadership are locally owned. Therefore, it is very important to leave a lot of these initiatives with the individual / local agencies / local government leaders. But there has to be some standard. There has to be some norm and some adherence to some policy and some shared infrastructure to capture the efficiencies of the same in a more coherent inter-governmental system. When it comes to enabling ICT for local communities, what we see is also the use of ICT for citizen score cards that gives a feedback on the government performance. This is a means to bring citizen’s voice to the forefront as a way of improving accountability of the government at all levels

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