Interview

The Success of e-Governance Lies in Empowerment of People : Jerome Bonnafont, French Ambassador to India

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Jerome Bonnafont
French Ambassador to India

Jerome Bonnafont, French Ambassador to IndiaThe world has come to a full circle for Jerome Bonnafont who started his diplomatic career as a Second Secretary at the French Embassy in India. The man who returned to the country in 2007 as the ambassador to India strongly believes that optimum utilisation of technology can help government’s across the world achieve their objective of public good. In an interaction with

Ravi Gupta and Gayatri Maheshwary of e-Gov, Bonnafont shared his thoughts on how he believes ICT can impact development.

Could you tell us about France’s successful journey on the path of e-Governance?

The use of Information Technology in France started in the 1970s. The French government has a tradition of looking forward and being an actor of the future. Being the harbingers of development, top-level government officials, while introducing technology for the governance of the country, took into consideration both the challenges and the opportunities that technology brings with itself.

‘E’ or ICT as a phenomenon has brought in two big forces of change: human progress and economic growth. Human progress in the country has enhanced connectivity at both the national and international levels. In terms of sustainability and access to knowledge, ICT has ushered in a kind of mental revolution in the society. It has helped in improving the overall standard of living, and has brought greater prosperity to society. Thus, ICT–which is a new  chapter in economic growth–has played a very important role in France’s development, as everywhere else on the globe.

To what extent has the French Development Plan for the digital economy been achieved?

This plan, called “Digital France 2012”, was started by the French Government  in the year 2008 to place France among the major digital nations by 2012. In  the 90s, the French were relatively behind the Americans and the Japanese in  terms of technology. The government accordingly organised and accelerated  infrastructure investment so as to cope and keep pace with the changes  happening in the other technologically advanced countries of the world. These  proactive actions have made France one of the most technologically advanced  countries of the world, where a majority of people are connected through ICT  with each other as well as with the government. More than 70 percent of the  French population, for example, have access to broadband connection at home  and 7.7 million people already use Internet to watch Television at home. Most  of the 150 actions of the plan are implemented.

After the economic crunch in 2009, the President of France has given priority to the investment of 5 billion euros in developing the ICT infrastructure of the country, including 2 billion Euros to build an optical fi bre network that will  enable every citizen to have 100mb speed home connections in the coming years.

Please comment on the digital landscape in India in the overall context of ICT  and how similar or different it is when compared to France.

The comparison of ICT development between India and France is not very easy  as the two countries have different economies. The growth and the  development of both countries are different and both have totally different administrative structures. The most striking thing about India is the  development of ICT in parallel with the acceleration of economic growth. This  phenomenon has led to the emergence of many big Indian companies, which  have become world actors in the digital route of e-solutions in India and  worldwide. Another favourable factor about India is the easy and vast acceptance of digitisation, which could be justifi ed given the popularity of  mobile phones not only among the urban and middle classes but also those  living in rural areas. Farmers have very easily adapted to changing technology.  In the education sector, too, the immense role of ICT can be seen.

What could be possible lessons for India from the French experience?

It may not really be possible for the Indian government to follow the same path  as followed by France, because of the various differences. One major difference  is the size of the population, which is huge in India as compared to France.  Another big difference is that India is a federation while France is a united country. Despite the differences found, the Indian government can learn from  the success and the experience France has gained over the years. India is still in  the nascent stage of e-Governance, and has a long way to go. Yet, the  government has made a good start with the help of very effi cient private  companies, notably in the mobile telecommunication area. Please comment on  the collaboration between India and France on the Indian UID project. France  has both technological and administrative experience in UID, which can be  used by India. The French government started with the process of giving  unique numbers to its citizens after the Second World War. At the time of birth, every person is assigned a number.

The major challenge for the Indian government is that the unique number will have to be compared with the fi nger prints of 1 billion people. It will also have to ensure that it is not duplicated, which is a mammoth task in itself.

What is your message for governments all over the world undergoing technological changes?

For fulfi lling the government’s objective of public good and a better society,  the development of infrastructures is important, along with the full utilisation of technology. It is the government’s role to ensure that administrative  procedures are modernised in parallel with the technological changes. It is a  revolution which is happening not only in India but also globally.

Ensuring that the citizens’ quality of life is not altered and that technological evolutions are taking place are the major challenges which every government  has to deal with.

Besides, the key success of e- Governance is empowerment. It is very important  to ensure that citizens comfortably adapt to the technological changes and keep pace with modern technologies.

Please elaborate on the challenges
that governments worldwide need to focus on.

The overall challenge of governments is the inclusion of citizens in  development, ensuring social cohesion – which is important and has to be given priority. Securing equal access to the administrative system for everybody in the country is a cornerstone of France’s politics. Making sure that the digital  divide does not become an enormous gap and that the system is user-friendly  even for those who are not so technology savvy is an obvious concern for all  administrations;it’s somehow the modern literacy  challenge.

Another very pertinent issue today is that of security. With cyber crimes on the rise, it is very important for governments to focus on protecting their assets.  Another equally important but often ignored issue is disaster management,  especially natural disasters. Protection against fraud in e-Commerce  transactions also needs to be addressed by the governments.

The French  government has implemented a single administration address, where all the  services for the citizens are available online. Citizens can avail of these services  by logging on to the system using their unique numbers. We believe this is a  way to simplify the access to e-Government services.

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