French Ambassador to India
The 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.