Friday February 23, 2024

Technology averse governance

January 06, 2023

LAHORE: Prudent use of information technology would not bring transparency in government functions but also reduce the backlog in service delivery. The use of IT hits snags in Pakistan as it deprives the rent seekers opportunity to make money.

Corruption is mostly prevalent because the bureaucrats shun use of digitised confirmed information and prefer to seek it manually from all individuals. Take for instance the case of a police certificate that is now required by all foreign embassies for issuance of visa.

The police department simply has to verify that the visa applicant does not have any past criminal record.

In Punjab the criminal record of all culprits has been digitised and is available at all police stations on a software.

The record of any applicant can be verified with one click. It will immediately reveal any criminal activity of the person anywhere in the province. In case there is no criminal record the police certificate can be issued immediately.

But this is not so in practice. The applicant is asked to provide the information about his stays as resident in different cities of the province or if the stay is in one city he/she has to name the locality and the period he/she has lived in each locality.

This is an outdated system under which each police station where that citizen lived would manually verify the applicant’s criminal record. The process takes a long time. The visa applicant is in a hurry. The only way to get a police certificate is through graft (as the IT way is not availed).

This has become a lucrative source of income for the issuers of police certificates. A scrutiny of the record of police certificates issued would reveal that some got the certificate in 24 hours although they had resided in two different districts and manual verification takes time.

It seems that to be on the safe side, the record is verified through the available software but certificates are issued late. There should be a police order that mandates that each police certificate applied should be issued within 48 hours of application (although it could be issued instantly like some certificates issued by NADRA outlets).

In the same way, identification of the majority of Pakistanis through bios technology has provided the country with an opportunity to document all economic transactions through the bios data incorporated in the computerised national identity cards.

It has now been made mandatory to produce CNIC for purchase of vehicles, registration of vehicles, registration of property, collection of motor vehicle tax, or issuance of licenses.

However, it seems that the information thus collected is not transferred to a central database where a centralised record of the individual is available. This non-consolidation of records is costing the country billions of rupees in evasion of taxes.

NADRA that issues the CNICs has some data about the health, education, disability and income status of the card holder. The information however pertains to the time when an individual applied for CNIC.

It is not possible for the authority to upgrade the information periodically. However, up-gradation of this record and many other statistical data is possible if it is made mandatory to transfer all that data that is passed through public institutions in which the CNIC is used.