Brunei leaps ahead in telecom infrastructure development

Azlan Othman

Brunei Darussalam slipped one spot to 60th place in the biennial E-Government Development Index (EGDI) released last week by the United Nations (UN).

The EGDI presents the state of e-government development of countries. Along with an assessment of local website development patterns, it incorporates access characteristics like infrastructure and educational levels to reflect how a country is using information technologies to promote access and inclusion for its citizens.

Brunei scored an overall 0.7389 this year, compared to 0.6923 in 2018. The global average is 0.59.

Classified in a group of developing countries that have high EGDI scores, the country has made a leap in the development of telecommunications, jumping from 0.6066 in 2018 to 0.8209 in 2020 in the Telecommunication Infrastructure Index, while there was a marginal improvement in Human Capital Index from 0.7480 in 2018 to 0.7605 this year.

However, the report also saw a drop in Online Service Index, from 0.7222 in 2018 to 0.6353 this year. In Southeast Asia, the Sultanate follows Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced lockdowns around the globe, most countries and municipalities are pursuing digital government strategies, many with innovative initiatives, according to the report.

However, it added, a vast portion of people still do not have access to online services.

The 2020 ranking of 193 UN member states, which captures the scope of quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity, is led by Denmark, the Republic of Korea and Estonia, followed by Finland, Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand, the United States (US), the Netherlands, Singapore, Iceland, Norway and Japan.

Among the least developed countries, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have become leaders in digital government development, advancing from the middle to the high EGDI group in 2020.

Overall, 65 per cent of the UN member states are in the high to very high EGDI range.

According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Liu Zhenmin, the pandemic “has renewed and anchored the role of digital government – both in its conventional delivery of digital services and new innovative efforts in managing the crisis”.

The EGDI report noted, “In response to health emergencies, governments have put in place new tools, such as dedicated COVID-19 information portals, hackathons, e-services for supply of medical goods, virtual medical appointments, self-diagnosis apps and e-permits for curfews. Many countries were quick to deploy tracking and tracing apps, and apps for working and learning from home.”

Among the innovative digital government responses to COVID-19, according to the report, include online dashboards in Canada and Australia to share information and track emergency responses.

Meanwhile, in China, chatbots are used to assess patients’ risk of being infected, while a community engagement app in Estonia allowed local governments to directly interact with their constituents, including the sharing of COVID-19 information, posting of photos and videos, and organising virtual events.

In Croatia, a ‘virtual doctor’ is powered by artificial intelligence and developed by technology firms in cooperation with epidemiologists, while in London, the use of cameras, sensors and AI algorithms, normally intended to control traffics, now measures distance between pedestrians to control social distance.

As a development tool, the EGDI examines countries’ strengths, challenges and opportunities, and informs policies and strategies.

The 2020 edition found that progress has been made across all regions, even in the least developed of countries; some 22 per cent of countries were promoted to higher levels of e-government development.

“While e-government rankings tend to correlated with the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only critical factor in advancing digital government,” said Liu. “A country’s political will, strategic leadership and commitment to advance digital services can improve its comparative ranking.”

The report also noted the way the pandemic has reinvigorated the role of digital government in its conventional delivery of public services and in ensuring business continuity as well as bringing about innovative ways in managing the crisis, such as contact tracing, e-health, online learning and remote working.