Wednesday, 26 January, 2022

Digital Bangladesh: Part I

Doors to limitless opportunities open

Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the architect of digitisation

‘Digital Bangladesh’ is no longer a dream. It has become a reality---facilitating seamless digital connectivity, improving transparency, ensuring hassle-free services and opening up access to limitless opportunities.

The transformation was made possible under the dynamic and pragmatic leadership of Prime Minister's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Adviser, Sajeeb Wazed Joy. 

The shift to ‘Digital Bangladesh’ from an analogue society has been an integral part of ‘Vision 2021’, which was a major pledge of Awami League’s manifesto in the ninth parliamentary election.

While announcing the election manifesto on December 12 in 2008, Awami League incorporated a goal to turn the country into a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021.

Many criticised the idea at that time but people are now getting the benefits of that vision, even in the rural areas, as the country has successfully materialised the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision in four key areas--- digital governance, connecting citizens digitally, developing IT-based human resources and promoting the ICT industry.

The ‘Digital Bangladesh’ dream has now become a reality under the dynamic and prudent leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a long-term strategy is in place for inclusive development leveraging the power of technology. Prime Minister’s ICT Affairs Adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy has been providing backend strategies for guiding Bangladesh’s digital journey. 

Acknowledging the contributions of Sajeeb Wazed Joy to turn the country into a Digital Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recently said the Digital Bangladesh initiative was the brainchild of her son and ICT affairs adviser Joy.   “Now, we have built Digital Bangladesh and done some work in steps. All these were done according to the suggestions of Joy. I would like to say that today we have been able to digitalize Bangladesh and popularize the education of technology,” she said.

Experts say the country is realizing the importance of a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ during the coronavirus pandemic as it would have been impossible to run the country smoothly without the successful implementation of the digital transformations taken place over the years as part of the Vision 2021.

The Awami League-led government reached the target of turning ‘Digital Bangladesh’ with massive development in ICT infrastructures, policy support and capacity building, they say. “One of the biggest challenges for the country now is ensuring cyber security. Rapid digitisation is increasing the risks posed by cyber threats. If the government cannot ensure secured and trusted digital connectivity in a data-driven world, individuals, businesses and the economy will suffer,” an expert said.

Former Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique told the Daily Sun that digitization has created opportunities for rural people to access digital services.

“The Digital Bangladesh vision of the government has been helping people in multifaceted ways as it has taken government services to the people's doorsteps in an easier, time-saving and cost-effective way,” he said.

“Rapid progress and expansion of ICT through the implementation of “Digital Bangladesh” has enabled people in remote areas to receive consultation from specialist physicians through telemedicine services,” he added.

As part of the electoral pledges, the government has already brought over 3,800 unions, including 772 remote areas under broadband connectivity, even extreme remote area Maheshkhali Island has been turned into a digital island under a project titled ‘Connecting Bangladesh’.

The government has reduced the bandwidth price from Tk 27,000 per Mbps in 2009 to Tk 400 per Mbps in 2021. The number of internet subscribers reached 112 million at the end of January 2021.

Some 605 million people are getting benefits of various digital government services through 8,280 digital centres while 28 high-tech parks are being constructed to shape the digital economy. Five high-tech/IT parks have already been built while ICT exports have already reached the $1.3 billion mark. Some 650,000 freelancers are working in the country, contributing to the country’s remittance income.

Post and Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar told the Daily Sun that Bangladesh is getting benefits of digitization in all sectors as people have embraced technology defying all odds and playing a key role to build a tech-friendly nation.

“Actually, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman initiated the building of a tech-based nation in 1975 through the construction of Betbunia Satellite Ground Station and making Bangladesh a member of International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina planted the sapling of a digital nation and Sajeeb Wazed Joy nurtured it,” he said.

The minister said “When AL formed the government for the first time in 1996, taxes were levied on computers. That is the way our Digital Bangladesh started its journey.”

According to the ICT ministry, Bangladesh is also expanding e-governance in many sectors, including health, agriculture, education, transportation and social safety net, to make public services more transparent, efficient and effective.

Steps have already been taken to reduce rural-urban socio-economic disparities through mobile banking services, reduction in prices and taxes on mobile phones, internet facilities in schools for enhancing investments in the technological sphere and increase in software usage.

During the pandemic, the country has not come to a complete standstill due to the flourishing of ICT that facilitated running offices, educational institutions and the functioning of courts virtually. Other sectors, like telemedicine, e-commerce and f-commerce also enjoy the facilities.

When most of the countries are struggling for their economic survival, the situation is completely different for Bangladeshis, they say.

Apart from connecting 18,434 government institutions under optical fibre connectivity, the government has established Sheikh Russel Digital Labs at 8,000 educational institutions to increase computer literacy for school students across the country.

Nearly six million people including a good number of females have received ICT training that facilitated creating massive tech-based employments in the country.

The national super app ‘myGov’ aggregates all existing service blocks of e-governance such as ekSheba Citizen, e-Nothi, ekSheba Government, ekSheba Uddokta, 333, Porichoy, GRS etc. to quickly digitize all public services by 2021 and to fulfil the government mandate.

Science and Technology Secretary of Awami League, Abdus Sabur told the Daily Sun that turning a digital Bangladesh has been possible due to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina envisioned it while her competent son Sajeeb Waed Joy supervised the initiatives.

“Bangladesh is going to launch 5G services on December 12 that will facilitate zero distance in connectivity, education and business, and create new fields in ICT,” he said. “We will be able to handle the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) under the leadership of the premier and the ICT adviser. Hopefully, Bangladesh will lead science diplomacy along with political and economical diplomacy too,” he added.