More than 80 countries have introduced one-stop shops—one-door or single-window service delivery outlets, community or citizen information and service centres, e-government web portals—to reduce corruption by simplifying public service delivery processes and making them citizen-friendly.
Around the world, these are reducing corruption and introducing greater service delivery efficiency. For example, as a result of service centres in India, citizens reported 50 percent less chance of encountering a demand for bribe. In Georgia, citizen satisfaction with regard to public services shot up to 92 percent from 10 percent.
And in Bangladesh, Union Digital Centres (UDCs) are one-stop shops serving rural citizens. These are a hallmark achievement of the government’s Digital Bangladesh vision, which envisages using them to provide all public and private services to rural citizens.
A Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) research report in 2017 found that corruption has reduced as a result of UDCs because “chances of becoming victims of corruption” have been minimised.
The most popular public services in UDCs today are birth registration, citizen certificates, and registration for migrant workers. Some increasingly popular private services include mobile financial services, insurance, computer and vocational training.
New research evidence for Bangladesh Priorities by the Copenhagen Consensus and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) indicates that for each and every taka spent, UDCs are generating a double return to society through the delivery of three key services: online birth registration, exam registration and the social safety net program (SSNP).
The benefits of SSNP were estimated using both the present (ongoing pilot) and future (scaled up) scenarios. If SSNP is indeed scaled up using the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) system and UDCs are allowed to use this to target the right beneficiaries, this can triple benefits for every taka spent.
In terms of their institutional design, there are differences in the way that one-stop shops operate from one country to another. In Bhutan and India, for example, they are providing public services such as birth certificates, license registration, and social safety net programs through a single-door policy. And one-stop shops in Vietnam are providing administrative services such as business registration, notarisation and confirmation and public information generally.
Here in Bangladesh, the design of UDCs uses a micro-enterprise model which is run under a public-private partnership (PPP) modality. What this means is that UDCs are “micro” because of their small size and they are de jure run by two entrepreneurs—one male and one female. The entrepreneurial role arises from the ability to partner with different private-sector actors and also with public-sector organisations to provide services at an affordable cost.
Because UDCs in Bangladesh are not restricted to government services only, they incorporate private services in the spirit of micro-entrepreneurship which is driven by a PPP arrangement.
The findings from the latest Bangladesh Priorities research commissioned by Copenhagen Consensus and BIGD give good cause to argue that the upcoming budget for FY2019-20 should allocate money to be spent on cultivating a sense of social entrepreneurial ownership by UDC entrepreneurs, and keeping them focused squarely on serving rural citizens.
Doing so requires enabling the relevant agencies—Cabinet Division, Local Government Division and a2i—to work on multiple ends: a recruitment plan for UDC entrepreneurs, profit-sharing mechanisms and organising behavioural change communication programs, as well as “matching” exercises to allow all UDCs to seek out the most relevant private-sector partners to serve their village community.
The budget for FY2019-20 can allocate money to support designing and disseminating a database which can help to identify new services, or scaling up successful ones such as computer training and SSNP outreach, and generating new income sources for UDC entrepreneurs. There is a Digital Centre Management System (DCMS) which needs to be made publicly accessible and used for identifying demand-driven services.
In particular, a new UDC census before the Eighth Five Year Plan would enable UDCs to fulfil their potential as a government one-stop shop. It is envisaged that UDCs will be tailored under the next five-year plan to ultimately follow Singapore’s “No Wrong Door Policy,” where any government application is available.
UDCs can be made responsible for receiving and sanctioning/rejecting government applications. Entrepreneurs can collect clearances from government offices through an IT network without the citizen having to run around different offices, undertaking multiple visits and incurring costs.
All UDCs should be able to redirect any citizen application to the right government agency and ensure that the latter responds to the applicant. In cases where the application involves more than one agency, UDCs receiving the application will coordinate a single, consolidated response to the citizen.
Such integration of processes would benefit rural citizens and make UDCs an even smarter investment priority.
Hasanuzzaman is the Outreach Manager at Copenhagen Consensus Centre. He can be reached at email@example.com