In the Smart Bangladesh plan, the government is placing the highest importance on increasing financial inclusion through the development of citizens' technological skills. To this end, the "Smart Bangladesh Taskforce," led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has planned to expand the use of technology extensively in the economy, society, and government system.
At the first meeting of the task force, a comprehensive set of 21 targets was set for the creation of Smart Citizens, Smart Economy, Smart Society, and Smart Government, which are the four main pillars of Smart Bangladesh. The targets primarily focus on developing skills, cashless and entrepreneurial economy, transparent and accountable governance and building inclusive, equitable and sustainable societies.
Member Secretary of Task Force Md Shamsul Arefin, who is also the secretary of ICT Division, told The Business Standard that action plans for the implementation of the initiatives have been initiated.
"Fifteen committees have been formed under the leadership of 15 ministers. Soon, a meeting will be held with the secretaries or focal point officials of these committees, where specific plans for project implementation will be discussed. Furthermore, feedback and requirements regarding Smart Bangladesh have been sought from all ministries. Advice has also been sought from the private sector," he said.
Specific and timely action plans will be developed based on these inputs, he said, adding that a document outlining the action plans will be published, and investment plans will be formulated in accordance with the action plans.
When asked about the challenge of Smart Bangladesh, the ICT Division Secretary said that it involves a vast plan. "In this context, challenges are indeed present, and one of the foremost among various challenges is the enhancement of skills for the general public and workers."
He further said, "Training the general population to adapt to future technologies poses a significant challenge. Additionally, ensuring data security is another major challenge as the progression towards a paperless workflow in Smart Bangladesh is substantial. The aim is to reduce the use of paper in government offices to zero level. In this regard, ensuring the security of information is crucial.
"Furthermore, the government envisions a cashless society, meaning virtual or cloud storage of people's financial transactions. Ensuring the security of this system is also imperative. Another challenge is the potential decrease in job opportunities due to the use of technology. In this context, efforts should be made to increase job opportunities within the technology sector itself."
The government has set certain targets, some of which will be implemented in the short term or by the year 2025. Some targets will be achieved in the medium term or by the year 2031. The remaining goals will be implemented in the long term or by the year 2041.
To ensure that government institutions take the necessary preparations to achieve the set targets, directives have been issued to all ministries and divisions through the Cabinet Division. Fifteen sub-committees have been formed under the leadership of 15 ministers. These committees will identify problems, possibilities, and actions within their respective domains. Subsequently, the committees will also monitor the implementation progress of the action plans in the future.
Secretary Shamsul Arefin told TBS, "In achieving these targets, the government will provide policy support. Platforms will be established, and both government and non-government entities will participate in the implementation of these plans."
Although the government has been talking about Smart Bangladesh for a long time, there was no clear idea about what this new theme is. It was clarified through the objectives set by the task force.
The Smart Bangladesh Taskforce was formed in August 2022. In the subsequent year's budget speech, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal shared his thoughts on this matter. The finance minister stated that the Smart Bangladesh programme would play an effective role in achieving the dream of an advanced Bangladesh by 2041. Under Smart Bangladesh, each citizen's per capita income is expected to reach $12,500. The percentage of people living below the poverty line will be less than 3%. Extreme poverty will be eradicated. Inflation will be within 4-5%. The budget deficit will be less than 5%. The revenue-to-GDP ratio will be above 20%. Investment will constitute 40% of the GDP. One hundred percent digital economy and science and technology-based literacy will be achieved. Healthcare services will reach everyone. A paperless and cashless society will be established. The most significant achievement in Smart Bangladesh will be the establishment of a society based on equality and justice.
The government has placed the highest importance on skill development and entrepreneurship creation to cultivate "Smart Citizens."
The government plans to take the entrepreneurship creation programme to the grassroots level.
To ensure a smart workspace, the government's plan involves creating a national entrepreneurship ecosystem. Under the "One Family, One Seed" program, by 2041, every family member of the economically disadvantaged population will have access to Smart Employment and Entrepreneurship Development (SEED) facilities.
Additionally, within the short term, the goal is to increase the digital literacy index by 50%. By 2025, the aim is to achieve 60% usage of smart devices, create opportunities for citizens' e-participation in government and non-government services, and integrate skills with education through time-bound blended learning programmes.
In building a smart economy, the government has emphasised on cashless transactions, raising per capita income and reducing poverty. For this reason, special importance is being given to digitalisation of the private sector including cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs) or small industries.
In the short term, the government aims to take cashless transactions to 30%. In the medium term, the government aims to make all transactions in the country cashless by 2031. Besides, 1% Total Factor Productivity (TFP) will be created in the country's GDP by 2025. The government wants to take this growth to 2.5% in the next step.
Furthermore, to enhance capabilities in frontier technology, establish unicorn startups, and increase business opportunities, a robust service platform will be created. The government aims to facilitate foreign direct investment (FDI) contributing directly to the country's GDP by 3% by 2031, and by 2041, Bangladesh is envisioned to become a hub for regional exports in frontier technology.
In this segment, the government's first objective is to establish a digital land administration, initiated by the Ministry of Land. Subsequently, there is a commitment to ensuring comprehensive public health. In the short term, services will be provided that are paperless, easy, and citizen-centric. In the mid-term, all services will be paperless and personalised. Moreover, even before the transformation into an advanced country, services will be provided based on the demand of individuals guided by frontier technology.
Service delivery by the government will be facilitated through the Smart Bangladesh Stack. The government aims to break into the top 100 countries by 2025 on the United Nations e-Government Development Index. The government aims to be among 70 countries by 2031 and among 50 countries by 2041.
Using technology, the government wants to take the tax-GDP ratio above 12% by 2025. It also wants to take this ratio to 17% in 2031 and 22% in 2041.
In the formation of a smart society, the utmost importance is given to financial inclusion and service delivery powered by frontier technology. The government aims to ensure more than 50% financial inclusion by 2025. By 2031, the goal is to achieve 100% financial inclusion. Financial inclusion refers to ensuring banking and financial services for everyone, irrespective of income or savings.
The government also aspires to improve Bangladesh's position in the Global Cyber Security Index. In the short term, Bangladesh aims to be ranked 30th in the index. By 2031, the goal is to be among the top 25 countries, and by 2041, the aim is to be among the top 20 countries.
Challenges in Building Smart Bangladesh
Despite such extensive planning, experts see challenges in the formation of a smart Bangladesh. They argue that substantial investments are needed for this purpose. Additionally, involving private accounts, where the challenges are more significant, is essential.
Experts propose increasing research and development funding multiple times to address these challenges. They also recommend implementing measures to enable people to acquire artificial intelligence skills. Another significant challenge in Bangladesh is integrating the technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Training the younger generation to cope with this challenge is also a priority.
In the first meeting of taskforce held in November 2022, educationist Dr Muhammad Zafar Iqbal provided advice on enhancing research and development in the country.
Basis President Russell T Rahman mentioned that foreign entities are involved in mega projects. He recommended establishing mechanisms for the technology transfer to local companies.