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Tunisia moves fast on digital path

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Minister photo 2The advent of ICT initiatives in India has attracted countries globally to take cue and impart a better governance to its citizens through digitisation. Tunisian Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, Noomane Fehri, in an interaction with Jessy Iype of Elets News Network (ENN), takes a sneak peek into some initiatives his country has undertaken.

How have the projects in green technology, cyber security and use of ICT applications in socio-economic field come up in your country?

The Tunisian ICT sector is seven percent of the economy of Tunisia. Tunisia is a country that is advanced in information technology and cyber security – a component of ICT – and a crucial part of my job. The role of green technology helps enhance sustainable technology. We have a plan that we call as the ‘Tunisia Digital 2018’. This plan aims to double the number of people working in the ICT sector, to triple the added value in the economy and to quadruple the exports of the country. The plan focuses on three areas, the first one is connectivity – we aim to connect every single Tunisian family by high speed internet. The second one is learning, where we aim to have 100 percent digital schools until 2020. We have milestones every year. The third one is serving, that is, serving the country and serving the people, which means that the government aims to go digital. This means to have a paperless government.

While India too is among the jointly working group of ICT, which discusses how bilateral trade could be increased in communications through public-private partnership, what are your views about it in your country?

The introduction of the strategy called the ‘Tunisia Digital 2018’ is jointly drafted between us and the private sector.This public-private sector has delivered the strategy. We had the high strategic council for ICT in Tunisia, a joint counsel, where 50 per cent is government and 50 per cent of it is private, both work together in coordination  to deliver. In India, I have seen that the government has the right intention and they are working on the execution of it. However, in Tunisia, it is not easy, as the private sector always want to intervene. While the government has a structured yet global plan so it’s ideal to work together. But the problem lies when in the private sector, which wishes to direct you on one direction to benefit from it unlike the government, who is for public and ensures citizen’s service and their benefit. This is the aim you just need to manage it, it’s not easy but I think we are doing a good job in Tunisia.

The initiatives used to enhance the governance in a country have been possible through the advent of e-governance, adopted by many countries globally. What are the most prominent eGovernance initiatives in your country?

A paper-free or paperless government is the biggest initiative. The government is planning to ensure to make birth certificates of the citizens be made available online, also provisions of ordering it via internet. Our plan is clear, we have a deadline. It’s similar to India’s unique identification plan, called Aadhaar. We too have a unique identification which creates services for the citizens. In Tunisia, you go to any part, you can ask for your birth certificate and they can provide you with the details as it is, through computerisation. And now we went one step further, you can now order your birth certificate online. The third phase will be that no birth certificate will be needed, if I can identify you, why do I need one? If I have your official records, mainly I’ll ask for your passport and not your other records, that is where we are going.

From what I see today, India has vast plans and with a population of one billion, I believe five percent of people have received their unique identification, it’s a big number. But the country should be pro-active. They should have prior deadline decided. The citizens should be involved in deciding whether the government is doing a good job or not. For example, when I say a 100 percent of the Tunisian household will get connected in 2020 I am saying that by 2018, 60 per cent will have high speed internet, currently we have 20 percent household connected. Gradually we will achieve the plan. Countries should have a measurable plan available; there should be an open government. We have an open government available, every single thing we do, people can observe and criticise us, and it will help us improve ourselves.

India too has adopted several eGovernance initiatives for its citizens. How do you think it is coping? Any suggestions or comments?

In India, 875 million people have digital identity, which is great, as it’s not an easy job. There were some good numbers shared by the Indian Government, on how it is implementing the initiatives. I must admit I was impressed. There have been initiatives to open bank accounts for citizens, however, there is an ardent need to awaken the civil society here. Also, 50 percent of the IT in the world has Indian presence. Open government initiatives needs to be done. For example, when I was a member of the Tunisian parliament for drafting the Constitution, the government and parliament didn’t have tools to publicise it or broadcast it, so the civil society employed seven youths who were tweeting what the members had to say, or sought clarify on some points. This led to involvement of the public because they started tweeting responsive opinions and led politicians go back and check on it.

The increased awareness about the technology and its use in various sectors has only helped a country gain parameters of development. How has your country faired in that aspect?

The government has two roles: role number one is development, and the other is that there is plethora of opportunities because you may achieve developments like 7 per cent of presence in the GDP, but benefiting only some sections – the richer are becoming richer and the poorer are becoming poorer. This is what happened in Tunisia before the revolution. We had 5-6 per cent growth year on year, but it was benefitting only few people. Now we have clearly two-three per cent growth, and its benefitting more people. So, technology allows us to deliver equality of chances faster. For example, if you would like to build a 100 kms highway to go to a village, it will take you 3-4 years minimum and cost you 100 million dollars. But, if you go digital, that is, through fibre optics, it will practically cost you not very much and the time duration will be 3-4 months.

I believe that our citizen is the customer. We are 77th in position globally, we used to be 31st. The numbers changed because we had an unstable government for last four years. My role is to go back to the top 40 globally, in terms of e-governance and it’s not an easy job, but very crucial because when you take out papers from the system, it stops corruption. We need to bridge the gap of generation among the youth and government through technology.

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