According to the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC), it took quite a long time to finalize the Digital Drukyul flagship program due to difficulties in securing a budget.
“We were not able to make a lot of expenditure, and this is expected since we took quite a long time to finalize the flagship itself. We had some complication in securing the budget. In the first year, focus was on doing tendering, and the good news is that most of the tenders have been completed. And in most cases, the work has been already awarded. The only issue that we had is in some of the projects, it requires a lot of physical meeting and this was difficult, and therefore, we were not able to make a lot of progress,” an MoIC official said.
He said that in terms of the approved annual budget, it was Nu 641.59 million (mn) and although there were only a few months left in the year to work on it very actively, the actual utilization of budget came to Nu 329.7 mn.
“We have been able to achieve this because, as envisioned by the Prime Minister, we frontloaded a lot of the infrastructure projects, like connecting the schools and majority of expenditure went along in this area, and the other one was Bhutan Integrated Tax System where the expenditure was significant. And it was awarded to DHI after lot of detail discussion,” he said.
He added that an initial payment of Nu 106.15 mn has also been made and already three contractors are in the country and they will be completing their quarantine.
“Even regarding the digital identity, we awarded the work directly to DHI considering the need for a very secure platform because digital identity is going to be integrated with all the systems in the country, and we could not compromise with the quality and also to ensure that we have the best system possible. We identified a global expert who has the experience, and this expert has been hired by DHI,” he added. The experts are already in the country to work on Digital Drukyul for a period of one year.
He further added that an additional progress that has been made in terms of National Digital Identity. After detailed assessment, the ministry shortlisted one company and it is a key company that can develop the digital identity initiative, and DHI is in technical negotiation with the company. Mostly likely within one to two months the work will be awarded and implementation of the technology will begin.
He said that in terms of the government initiative network, a total contract worth Nu 457 mn over a span of two years for the work has been already awarded.
“ When it comes to Bhutan Integrated Tax System, the total project cost was Nu 610.886 mn and out of this Nu 180 mn has been already paid to TTPL in bringing the expertise so that work can be accelerated. The detailed study has already happened between the two companies and has been finalized and the work will progress very soon,” he said.
He said, “The only issue is the initial budget was Nu 575 million, and unfortunately because of the COVID-19, the dollar exchange rate fluctuated and there was a barrier in the estimated cost of about Nu 35.88 mn. But we are looking at how we can manage it within the overall budget.”
Target for next three months
In terms of digital identity, the ministry is working on the electronic signature rules and regulation, and this is going to be one of the key regulations that will be necessary for digital signatures to work.
About the government initiative network, initially their plan was to use 209 offices, but in the next three months, the ministry plans to add 190 agencies or offices with fiber connection by the end of September 2020.
“In total, 399 offices will be connected. Additionally, we are also strengthening the core of the entire government network and the work has been awarded and the equipment will be delivered to these respective sites across the country,” he said.
He further said that for integrated citizen services, many people are not in the offices due to COVID-19.
“The challenges are not being able to meet with this people. Nonetheless, the project office has confirmed that business process re-engineering process of three key services (Birth, Death Registration, Rural Timber Permit and Marriage Certificate) will be completed.”
And in terms of e-Business, process transformation and business process re-engineering of integrated business licensing will be awarded and business transformation for 150 business activities will be completed by September.
He said that in terms of digital school, there are two components, one is e-Learning platform where the volunteer teachers videos will be posted on a domestic platform, and the work has been awarded and by September, with 80 percent of work to be completed by then. Regarding Enhancement of Education Information Management System (EMIS), the project faced some difficulties during the tendering process where no competent firm could be found. However, it was retendered and by September the validation will be completed.
“One of the challenges we had with COVID-19 situation is getting people together in one place. The strategy that we had for the training of IT professionals was to bring in industry experts from abroad in the country, but we are not able to bring them because of the COVID-19. So we are actually exploring online platforms and the training is being conducted virtually. We have already experimented with one of the companies that does online training called Simply Learn. Moving forward we have plans to conduct minimum of four such trainings so the experts do not have to come. By September we would have trained 50 professionals from the private sector and few from the government sector,” he said.
He added that for non-ICT professionals, they will develop user manual for the online services by August and identify individual trainers and provide Training Of Trainers by the end of August. They will also identify the training institute by September.
He said that in terms of e-Patient Information System (e-PIS), initially it was off to a slow start, especially as the majority the health personnel were completely engaged on the frontline dealing with COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, even though the work was awarded, they were not able to have many discussions on it.
However, the actual final contract is signed around August, instead of waiting for two years for the entire system, the work will be completed by breaking it up into chunks and releasing the services.
“The only concern is that the price might shoot up, but so far, we did not officially receive the expected price. And in regard to BITS, we are indicating that initial GST component will be released in August and the actual developed module will be completed by September,” he said.