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Bangladesh’s government wins election campaigning on DPI

Bangladesh’s government wins election campaigning on DPI

After Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League secured a victory in a controversial election last Sunday, all eyes are on the government’s plan to boost the country’s digital public infrastructure (DPI) ecosystem.

A major part of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s campaign to win over voters was the country’s digitalization project and its economy, according to Al Jazeera.

In preparation for the national elections, which took place on January 7th, the government promised in its manifesto to introduce a unique health ID to ensure access to digital healthcare. The reform is part of the country’s plan to achieve universal health coverage by 2032.

The government’s Smart Bangladesh project kicked off in 2023 with plans to unfold over 18 years until 2041.

Health is just one part of the initiative, which covers the digitalization of public and private services.  Last year in June, Bangladesh’s central bank formulated a framework for establishing digital banks with eight financial institutions receiving approval in October. As part of its Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041, Dhaka is aiming to make a minimum of 75 percent of local transactions digital by 2027, the International Banker reports.

The country is also working on the Smart Bangladesh Stack as part of its DPI plans. In charge of boosting public sector delivery is the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) Programme. The a2i initiative was created by the Bangladeshi government Cabinet Division and ICT Division and is supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“There is no doubting the fact that the astounding quadrupling of the country’s GDP per capita and improvement in service delivery […] during this time have been greatly facilitated by digital adoption in all departments of the government and almost every sphere of the society,” Anir Chowdhury, a2i’s policy advisor, wrote in a commentary exalting Hasina’s government ahead of the elections.

The agency has spun out DPI initiatives such as the National Portal, Digital Centre, National Helpline-333, e-mutation, MyGov, e-Nothi, Muktopaath, Teacher’s Portal, Konnect, NISE, ekPay and ekShop. Some of these solutions have helped shape other countries’ e-governance solutions, including Fiji, the Philippines, Somalia, Jordan, Turkey and South Sudan.

Universal digital ID issuance and social safety payments with biometric ID verification are key elements of the Smart Bangladesh Stack and Vision 2041 master plan, along with digital assets.

The Bangladesh Vision 2041 is still facing challenges. Although the South Asian country ranks among the fastest growing economies in the world with an average annual GDP growth of 6 percent since the 2000s, it still has catching up to do. The 170 million-people nation had 66.9 million internet users in January 2023, with an internet penetration rate of just 38.9 percent, according to figures from DataReportal.

More challenges may come from its current political landscape. The United States has declared that the country’s latest elections were not free and fair. The legal framework that has accompanied Bangladesh’s digital rise, including the Cyber Security Act, passed in September 2023, has been criticized for opening doors to curtailing rights to freedom of expression, privacy and liberty.

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