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Bhutan plugs on Digital Matrix

โ€ฆ digitalization for efficiencies and effectiveness; accelerates development, promotes economic growth, and for better utilization of resources

By Editorial Team

His Majesty the King expressed his concerns about the dramatic changes brought about by the technological landscape and its rate of growth at the 14th convocation of the Royal University of Bhutan in May 2019. His Majesty was concerned that we would fall behind. โ€œWe will invariably be left behind if we are unable to embrace and leverage technology,โ€ said His Majesty the King.

With this in mind, the government agencies, autonomous bodies, corporates and many other agencies are moving toward digitalization. Nu 3.13bn has been earmarked for Digital Drukyul flagship program. The program aims to harness the power of ICT to transform Bhutan into a smart and inclusive society.

The Ministry of Finance is entrusted with implementing the Bhutan Integrated Taxation System, which is sponsored by the Government of Indiaโ€™s Trade Facilitation Support. The initiative will significantly improve tax administration and compliance in Bhutan, increasing the Royal Governmentโ€™s ability to collect money and easing procedure for tax payers.
Through the development of an improved integrated tax system, the nationโ€™s value-added, personal, and business taxes will all be combined. The quality of tax data obtained will be greatly improved by this integrated system, allowing better risk management and more effective and efficient tax monitoring. The initiative is also anticipated to considerably enhance government tax-related decision-making, which would ultimately enhance tax laws throughout the nation. Direct tax, goods and service tax, and an integrated revenue and payment system are all being developed as part of the project. According to Finance Minster, the project involving the goods and services tax has been temporarily delayed.

Bhutan launched the E-Business with the goal to make it easier to conduct business in Bhutan by streamlining regulatory processes for import and export of goods and, facilitating business startup through Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Although the Ministry of Economic Affairs offers 34 government-to-business services, potential clients must still get, among other things, location and sector permissions. This defeats the purpose of online services by forcing citizens, especially those who reside distant from city centers, to physically visit offices in order to obtain services.
In order to efficiently convert these physical procedures into integrated online services, the Integrated Business Licensing component of e-Business focuses on multi-sectoral services that include approximately 50 distinct stakeholders and about 400 business activities.

Further, the project will put into place a Single Customs Trade System (SCTS). The SCTS is designed to create a single point for electronic submission, making it easier to submit standard information to satisfy all regulatory criteria for goods transit, import, and export.

Karma Wangdi, Officiating Director of Bhutan Standards Bureau (BSB) said, โ€œThe BSB website contains information on all the services provided by the BSB – standardization, metrology and conformity assessment (certification and testing). Requests for standards and application for certification can also be made online. However, this has been put on hold for up gradation and will be rolled out soon. As with all other agencies, all monetary transactions are made digitallyโ€.
He added, โ€œWe also promote virtual meetings with our regional and international partners. We have an official facebook account where we receive queries about our services. We also operate WhatsApp and Wechat accounts for different divisions. We also have an overall BSB account and an account for the Management where we share information and seek comments. All office orders are also shared through email and media accounts to reduce paper wastage. We utilize Google workspace to share important documents and receive feedback. We also have an online feedback system which can be accessed from our websiteโ€.

He further added, โ€œDigitization is making work more efficient and faster. Some of the future plans are to create online access to standards, promote virtual events, enhance online application and online payment for services, and enhance paperless correspondences and digital awareness programs. All services would be made digital by 2025 however, depending on the availability of human and financial resourcesโ€.

Ugyen Tshering, Chief Program Officer of Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) said, โ€œApproximately, 75% of BNCA has been digitized. Majority of the services are provided through online system. All the staffs are provided with computer each and every correspondence is done through internet, social media and mass media platforms. Recently, we have developed Central Information Management System (CIMS). The import and export of the controlled drugs and precursor chemicals, sharing and communication of information and intelligence with the regional and international level are also done through digital. The capacity building of the Competent Law enforcement agencies are given Computer Based training and other trainings are also done virtually. The Inspectors use hand-sets (Motorola) for communicationโ€.

He added, โ€œWith digitization we could save time, resources and budget. There is better efficiency and effectiveness on the works. It also improves the Turn Around Time (TAT) in service delivery. Moreover, there is better cooperation and timely coordination among staff, along with the acquisition of new skills, values and knowledge leading to continuous learningโ€.

โ€œIn future we are thinking of digitizing more by delivering every service via online. Even the regulation, monitoring and evaluation of the programs shall be done online. Every training will be done through online. The reporting system to the national, regional and international level will be done via online. Every communication and information sharing will be done via online system. Assessment of clients (Drug Dependence) shall be done via online. Counseling of the Drug use Orders will be done via onlineโ€, he further added.

Tashi Choden, Assistant Information and Media Officer of Anti-corruption commission (ACC) said, โ€œGiven the importance of technology in this fast-pacing era, the ACC has always been prioritizing and working in keeping up with the current level of advancement. With the sudden upsurge of pandemic across the world since 2019, the travel restrictions, lockdown, work from home and limitations for face-to-face contact exacerbated the extreme uncertainty and the conventional techniques and procedures of the ACCโ€™s core functions. Therefore, ICT was used extensively to support remote working and collaboration with stakeholders. In fact, technology became the best alternate mode of delivering the functions of the ACC with continuous adaptation and adjustment in its approaches as well as proceduresโ€.

โ€œThe ACC continues to educate and engage various target groups from schools and colleges to government agencies, private sector and civil society organizations through virtual sessions. The ACC also upgraded and launched the e-learning courses on Ethics and Integrity for public servants (civil servants and corporate employees), enhanced the online Asset Declaration (AD) and Complaints and Investigation Management Systems (CIMS). Likewise, the adoption of social media platform, Juenlam ACC- further enhanced accessibility besides complementing other modes of complaints since its launch in February 2021. The ACC also developed in-house communication and monitoring systems and applications like decision tracking application, attendance and leave application, ACC Drive (common file sharing system), among others,โ€ she said.

โ€œLikewise, various e-platforms such as the recently launched e-litigation platform would need to be optimized. Similarly, under the Justice Sector Plan, efforts are underway to develop electronic evidence management system to save cost of duplication in terms of evidence management in hard copy. This initiative will certainly entail considerable savings in terms of both time and resources for ACC, OAG and judiciary. The ACC is working on further enhancing the CIMS and has also commenced the development of Integrity Vetting Report System and Complaint Status Tracking App which will be launched soonโ€ she further added. โ€œThe ACC has harnessed and will continue to harness the opportunities of technology and digitalization to promote effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of anti-corruption measuresโ€.

Digitization has also benefited the health sector in a variety of ways. Ministry of Health (MoH) said, โ€œThe whole healthcare system in Bhutan is upgraded through an electronic patient information system (e-PIS). e-PIS was created with the mission to support the provision of better health in communities, provide better person-based care to individuals, empower healthcare providers with their use of technology, and enable the exchange of individual and aggregate data to help health managers take better informed decisions by 2023โ€.

The eHealth Strategy and Action Plan seeks to deliver or take health care services closer to the citizen at their doorsteps. It aims to provide accessible, convenient and cost-effective health care services to the citizens. With the system, all health records and medical history will be at the fingertips of the patient and their doctors, improving the quality of treatment the doctor can offer. Meanwhile, this system holds the healthcare personnel more accountable. Aligned with Bhutanโ€™s e-Government master plan, the National eHealth strategy and action plan aims to improve health by empowering health-care providers and citizens through technology and by enabling data exchange for service delivery. The strategy has four primary areas of focus:
(i) Ensuring digital health governance arrangements;
(ii) Concentrating on strong foundations in terms of infrastructure and standards;
(ii) Prioritizing improvements in the current health system in a phased, selective manner; and
(iv) Building the digital skills and knowledge of health workers.

โ€œWith e-PIS the citizens will no longer need to carry their medical files every time they visit a hospital. Physicians will also be able to quickly review a patientโ€™s medical files and they can provide efficient diagnostic services. Furthermore, it is expected that the Ministry of Health and other relevant stakeholders will be able to use the data to carry out analytics to enable better policy decisions,โ€ added the MoH.

With support from the Asian Development Bank and the World Health Organization, phase-1 of the strategy has been completed and the blueprint for the digital health information system is in development. Phase-2 of the strategy will be implemented during 2020-2023 and will include work on;
(i) Identity management for the health workforce;
(ii) The implementation of a master patient index and a secure longitudinal patient information system; and
(iii) Enabling all health facilities to access the systems.

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the regular teaching mode and constrained the education ministry to embark on virtual learning. โ€œVirtual learning was new for all the people at that time where both the student and teacher were facing hard time getting adapted to it. This was the point at which I realized how much people lacked in terms of digitization,โ€ said Dorji Pem, Teacher.

An innovation ICT-integrated pilot lab classroom has been set up at Dechencholing Higher Secondary School and Loselling Middle Secondary School in Thimphu. It was inaugurated at Dechencholing Higher Secondary School as a part of the digital collaboration between the Ministry of Education and the Republic of Korea.

According to the Ministry of Education (MoE), the initiative will improve the education environment by providing better access to the digital world. With such facility, the teachers will be able to enhance their competency; knowledge and skills in disseminating the ICT education to the students while it will help students to strengthen their digital literacy and the overall learning outcome. It will also support in developing teaching materials and capacity development on managing the innovation classroom and ICT tools among others.

A teacher at Chukha Primary School said, โ€œWe do have a TV room and ICT lab in the school. We mostly use TV room to show the students videos related to the topic. In this way, the students are more receptive as they are taught with the video aids and it makes both learning and teaching easier.โ€

Digital Drukyul is expected to achieve improve citizensโ€™ satisfaction with public services in the areas of health care, education, business licensing and other critical public services.

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