No one knows who first started the practice of binding government documents with red tape during the colonial era. It could have been red, white or blue – any colour. Here this red tape got translated into ‘redtapism’ and red tape oppression favouring the bureaucracy started, rather than serving the people. Its implication, at the beginning, was to indicate inertness of bureaucracy, but later ‘speed money’ or illegal transaction got attached to it.
Electronic governance (E-governance) has brought about a positive change amid this red tape oppression in Bangladesh. Processing of around 90 per cent documents under 25 ministries are now being done electronically. As many as 3.2 million e-mails were exchanged, and more than 10 million documents were settled. There is a positive change in the system and it hurt the ‘bribe business’ in the offices.
In some cases speed money was no longer needed, since the officials involved were having a difficult time coping with the fast change of the system. Harassment and public suffering are declining. But one thing must be remembered that at the end of the day the man behind the machine is the most important one. So after witnessing the efficiency of the e-documents in this earlier stage, there is no point of taking it for granted.
The policymakers should be aware that dishonest officials will always be naturally looking for a viable alternative. So, while developing the software or the system, it is important that the operators have the knowledge and understanding about the malpractice of the e-governance and the solution for that. The staff must have a minimum level of skills. We are on the brink of a fourth industrial revolution, so we might consider that at one point robots might be used for office management. That means we are faced with a new situation entirely.
Electronic document management is creating transparency in government work, bringing accountability. The challenge is to keep this system from being corrupted by itself. There will be a risk of mechanical malfunction. There might be attempts to reincarnate the invisible ghost of speed money by devising new schemes by attempting misuse of the new system. Here a simple mistake can bring a big disaster. It will be a matter of great regret, if the e-document management remains faulty, because the penalty will be severe.
It is important to make certain that the benefit e-document is now providing by reducing harassment sustains and prevents malpractice. Lesson must be taken from the Bangladesh Bank heist where the system was hacked.
That incident showed that even though e-document brings speed in processing important and sensitive documents, it can also cause great disaster from a simple inadvertency. So, it is very important to keep the mischievous nature of hacking in mind.
We wish the government’s initiative to create a revolution by reducing the use of paper in official work all the success, something that is happening during the Golden Jubilee of our independence in 2021. It is important to ensure that there is no flaw and carelessness and necessary protection and security measures are taken.