KARACHI: Today’s world can aptly be called a digitally-driven world. The technological influx has influenced almost every aspect of our lives. Due to this, data has become one of the most valuable assets in the world. Access to this data, with absolute accuracy and security, is the need of every fast development-oriented society or country.
The need for the application of centralised database in Pakistan, using digital technologies to improve public services delivery and government-citizen engagements, is felt more than ever.
Pakistan has been facing security challenges ever since its formation. Besides domestic factors, which are political, religious and sectarian, the external factors have also played a major role in the deteriorating situation of law and order in the country.
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Pakistan is located in a volatile part of the world. It shares borders with Afghanistan that has been in the throes of war and insurgency for decades, Iran and arch-rival India. Centralised database and its associated security apparatus is the only tool that can minimise security crisis in the country.
However, despite its critical importance, we are still lagging way behind in introducing any such step towards digitalising the mechanism of governance through the centralised database system. Reasons are uncountable, however, the most important ones are economic and political instability, poor governance and deteriorating government institutions.
Importance of centralised database
The centralised database system stores all the data at a single place, which creates data integrity that a given set of data only has one primary record. It also helps to increase security of the data as the single data storage location implies only one possible place, from which the database can be attacked or stolen.
Furthermore, it is easier for the end-user to use due to the simplicity of having a single database design.
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A greater level of transparency and accountability of government functionaries can be ensured through such integrated database systems. Online availability of information will serve as a check on government departments. Any kind of slackness in the provision of public services will immediately come in the limelight.
Furthermore, efficiency in the provision of government services can be achieved at a fraction of cost as compared to that of using traditional modes of database system.
What can be better than having all the data accessible anywhere, anytime and by anyone. It is a paradigm shift in which citizens would no longer have to go to government offices, rather all the services would be available at their doorsteps.
Examples of implementation
Realising the potential of digitalisation, the world is swiftly moving to the digital modes of governance. Let’s take an example of our neighboring country and a well-known friend China.
According to a recent news story of Reuters, China is to launch a five-year plan to build a financial database. The step is intended to address the systematic financial risks. The five-year plan will also formulate a balance sheet for the entire financial system to cover banking, securities and insurance institutions.
Another example of successful application of the centralised database system is the social security number (SSN), which is a nine-digit number issued to US citizens, permanent residents and temporary residents. An independent agency of the US Government Social Security Administration has the authority to issue this number, which has the purpose of tracking individuals’ accounts within the social security programme. Due to its usage and significance, the SSN has become a de facto national identification number for taxation and other purposes.
The case of Pakistan
In the case of Pakistan, there are several cases which remain unresolved just as a result of unavailability of a comprehensive national database mechanism. Let’s take an example of Zainab’s murder case. Despite the notice taken by the Supreme Court backed by the declaration of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) and all relevant government departments’ rebuttal that Imran Ali, a rapist from Kasur, has no bank account, a couple of journalists stuck to their claim that the rapist had dozens of bank accounts.
In another recent incident, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has discovered a hefty amount of Rs2.25 billion in a bank account of a Karachi falooda vendor. This is just one example that came to the surface. There are many like Abdul Qadir who do not have any idea about the illegal transactions being carried out in their accounts without their knowledge.
If today you open the wallet or purse of any average Pakistani, you will find a CNIC, a company card, a driving licence and an ATM card. Availability of such cards means the average citizen to some extent has his data recorded in digitalised format. The introduction of smart identity card by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) is also a commendable step, which gives the state access to basic information of its citizens. However, a fully enhanced system of database is required that should be biometric in design to capture almost all details of the citizens.
Pakistan is facing a shortage of information and communications technology (ICT) manpower. Therefore, the establishment of government training institutes for database experts is badly felt. Capacity building of government employees should be done on an extensive scale so that the database mechanism could run smoothly.
Establishment and implementation of the system require a firm political/administrative commitment. Moving towards the introduction of the centralised database system will prove helpful in tracking corruption. Therefore, mitigation of resistance from those elements involved in corruption requires a robust strategy.
A very important step towards e-governance is having the centralised system. The formation of a committee, comprising the prime minister as its head and all provincial chief ministers as committee members, is required. The committee should meet on a quarterly basis to share best practices, committing cohesive coordination to avoid redundancy and identifying the enabling environment including the legislation required.
Despite its critical importance, it should be remembered that successful implementation of the centralised system is only possible with the commitment from the top. This will ease the life of the common citizen and every citizen will be able to know what they have in their accounts either cash or movable property with just one click. This is the time to declare “godigitalpakistan” as our core strategy that will help achieve end-to-end automation in all sectors of the country.
The writer is the ICT director and the founding director of the Centre for Information and Communication at IBA
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2018.
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