Govt has to promote full digitisation to save country from economic impacts of lockdown: Experts

Published On: May 23, 2020 06:55 PM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, May 23: Experts have urged the government to ensure a digital ecosystem and related security system providing access to all concerned at a time when the country has been reeling under a two-month long nationwide lockdown.

Nepal has been quite slow with the process of digitization, with limited use of information technology except for a few sectors. With the prevailing traditional system that uses physical means extensively, the lockdown has brought almost all economic activities of the country to a grinding halt. The situation has called for extensive digitization even in the post-lockdown period, to minimize the economic losses from similar types of risks in the future, said the experts.

Speaking at a webinar on Saturday, ICT expert Manohar Kumar Bhattarai said the current lockdown has provided an opportunity to the entrepreneurs to promote digitized business. “For this purpose, there is a need for a policy response to ensure the foundation pillars,” said Bhattarai.

Appointing chief information officers at the national and provincial levels, providing broadband and mobile connectivity at the grassroots,, enhancing electronic delivery services, provisions of National ID in information system, strengthening of security system, institutional arrangement, data analytics and promotion of digital transaction are some measures which Bhattarai identified to ensure the foundation pillars of a digital ecosystem.

Nepal has been practicing digitized mechanisms in some areas such as telemedicine, online classes and banking systems, among others. “However, there is no clarity of modality to implement the services effectively,” Bhattarai said.

Vivek Rana, an enterprise architect at Digital System InfoAssure P Ltd, stressed the need for focusing on a database system, risk management and government compliance to promote digital use in the country. “The system needs to be integrated into multiple stakeholders apart from service providers and end consumers via a digital framework, which facilitates demand driven measures at the grassroot level,” said Rana.

Last year, the government introduced a strategy named Digital Nepal Framework that underlined eight sectors and 80 digital initiatives to transform the country fully into digitization. Of the initiatives, infrastructure like a fiber broadband network, 5G and supporting economic zone for the IT sector have been listed as the major agendas to boost the country’s connectivity sector.  

According to the framework, Nepal’s entire population has now access to mobile services while 60 percent of them have access to the internet as of last year. The digitized system is accessible mostly to smartphone users, but does not incorporate the users of normal mobile sets in rural areas, according to the experts.

Rana said the framework has failed to incorporate such matters along with the security and privacy of data. “Rather than facilitating only a paperless system in the name of digitization, the government has to manage an open digital ecosystem to promote access to all stakeholders,” he added.  

Sunaina Pandey, managing director of General Technology Pvt Ltd, said the country’s internet service is one of the most expensive in South Asia. “Overall, the consumers have to pay more than 40% taxes under different headings,” said Pandey. According to her, both the private sector and government offices need to conduct security audits to remain safe from the growing risk of hacking.

Purushottam Khanal, chairperson of Nepal Telecommunications Authority, admitted that there still lacks related policies to promote digitization across the country. “The lack of coordination among the government agencies has led to poor utilization of rural telecommunication development funds targeted for digitization of the rural areas,” said Khanal.

Khanal expressed his dissatisfaction also on poor initiatives taken by the private sector for digitization. He also outlined the need for setting up a separate watchdog agency for cyber security.   

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