Digital shifts for betterment
The local authorities seem to be very enthusiastic in welcoming new ideas. They have been adopting new technologies to reach to their people. “People are spending a day or two days’ time visiting municipality or ward offices for a minor work,” says the deputy mayor Ambika Chalaune of Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Achham district. “And we are also facing difficulties to communicate with our people.”
She added that at a time when most of the houses own at least one smart phone, “we are trying to use it as an opportunity”.
As a result – the concept of ‘SmartPalika’ evolved.
“The name Smartpalika, itself is smart, so there’s no doubt that it will help us improve our communication system in reaching to the public easily,” says Jamuna Bohora, Deputy Mayor of Jorayel Rural Municipality, Doti district. Bohora hopes that the launch of ‘Smartpalika’ will help them in many ways including gathering information of the available resources in the municipality and easily disseminating messages to the service seekers among others.
“This will eventually help in the development planning process of the municipality,” says Bohora.
It is believed that this system will save significant time and effort for the day to day tasks of municipal staff in terms of information management, ward services, vital registration systems, municipality profiles, notices of events, meetings, and processes.
The application is also a tool to connect elected representatives with the citizens. It includes a complaints mechanism which is easy and confidential for citizens to use.
“In the past, there have been several issues of responding to people’s grievances so the app will help to respond to those grievances in no time. It will end the ‘gap’ between the authority and the people,” says Bidur Bastola, MEAL Manager at DCA Nepal office.
The household profiling doesn’t just include the names and the number of households, but a detailed profile, categorized by sex, age, and any physical disability (or not), education status, number of children, their economic situation, whether they are below the poverty line or not, how much land they own, their agricultural production details, access to road, water supply, hospital, school and toilets among others. The data bank also contains information about the training received by household members, their formal educational status, and the jobs they are doing. This will enable the municipality to identify the situation of human resources in the areas – and whether they are employed or not.
With the technical support from PARIWARTAN project funded by the European Union and implemented by DCA with local partners: Equality Development Center (EDC) in Doti, Malika Development Organisation (MDO) in Achham and the technical partner, Inlogos; Panchadewal Binayak Municipality, Chaupati Rural Municipality and Mangalsen Municipality in Achham district and KI Singh Rural Municipality, Jorayel Rural Municipality and Shikhar Municipality in Doti district, are bracing up to adopt this digital shift.
“This will be the backbone of good management for our municipality,” Deputy Mayor of Ambika says. Echoing Amkiba’s statement Deputy Mayor Jamuna says, “The system will help in establishing ‘good governance’ with transparent services.”
The ward authorities will not have to visit the municipality office with bulky documents to update the numbers. They can do it online now – and it will be accessible for the people having a username and password.
In addition to this, the municipal dwellers can be reached easily through push notification or SMS system.
“This will help the municipality to spread its scheme like trainings, other opportunities and notices to the people in one go,” says Deputy Mayor Ambika. “This will save our time so that we can focus on other things.”
According to her, this also ensures people’s right to information as they will have access to all the information related to the municipality.
It will also help in municipal decision making.
The municipality will have enough information to recommend to donors where to invest and who the beneficiaries are. “Now we can plan ahead – we can allocate budget for water supply systems, enterprise promotion, schools, and health centers in the area where people are in dire need of such facilities,” Deputy Mayor Ambika added.
Mukesh Kunwar, IT officer at Chaurpati Rural Municipality, Achham district, believes that the online system will help in ‘proper use of resources’. “These data will be GIS-based so that the municipal authorities sitting in the office can see the exact location of the communities’ households – nearest school, health centers, road, water supply schemes, touristic places, public places among others,” Kunwar says.
The ‘limited internet access and low literacy rates are the main challenges in understanding the intended message to its successful implementation.
However, all these municipalities have already started mitigating these issues. “We have started by setting up WiFi services at ward offices and secondary schools as a start,” says Bohora. “The government is committed to reach to the households with proper internet services.”
The similar arrangements have been done in other municipalities too.
“The data collection work has been completed. In some, municipalities data verification is on going. Some have even started uploading all relevant information provisioned in the citizen charter and government rules and regulation needed for the service seekers,” says Malati Maskey, Programme Manager at DCA who also leads the PARIWARTAN project.
Maskey believes that the proper functioning of Smartpalika will bring a ‘revolution’ in these municipalities and help in establishing ‘Good Governance’ system.