E-governance refers to the use of information and communications technologies (ICTs) to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability of the government. The main goals of E-governance are: better service delivery to citizens; improved service for business; transparency and accountability to minimise corruption; empowerment through information; and efficient government procurement.
The Internet and related technologies are transforming the world we live in. They are increasingly influencing the way of our daily activities. E-governance aims at capturing the benefits of these technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government services. Governments worldwide have recognised that the transformation from traditional government to electronic government is one of the most important public policy issues of this time. Because of the extent of its potential opportunities -- and risks -- the Audit Offices around the world, particularly developed countries are in the way of adopting e-governance as a theme for a series of performance audits.
Existing situation of ICT in Bangladesh: Bangladesh is now at an early stage of Information Technology (IT). Very recently the Ministry of Science, Information and Communication Technology has developed an information technology (IT) policy for Bangladesh, which would help furthering ICT developments in the country. In Bangladesh, computers were first introduced in the Atomic Energy Commission in 1964 and were mainly for research and data processing. Personal computers gained popularity in the early 1990s when they became more user-friendly and affordable but the real boost came in 1998 with the introduction of Internet in 1996. More than 100 Internet Service Providers are now offering dial-up and broad band internet services. Private sector has significantly developed in IT sector while public sector is still lagging far behind. However, both the public and private sector felt the importance of IT and gave priority to this sector. Besides the IT policy, the government has also framed E-governance policy. Steps have been taken to link with information superhighway through submarine cable.
Government policy on ICT and its implementation: The highlights of this policy including its implementation aspects are as follows:
l producing skill manpower through ICT training and computer aided training by both private and public institutions;
l allocation of fund for producing more ICT graduates;
l the use of ICT and information be affordable to public;
l establishment of multimedia institutes;
l plan to set up an ICT incubator and ICT village;
l formulation of government policy; and
l extension of internet facilities to the district headquarters
Government has started to implement some of the policies. Waiver of all customs duty on computer items have made ICT products affordable and special fund has been allocated to different public universities to produce IT professionals. As a result of government open policy, the number of internet providers have increased. A number of IT projects have been approved in the Annual Development Programme (ADP). An E-office has been established in Bangladesh, which might be expanded later on.
In respect of IT development, public sectors are still in a very poor situation. Very few organisations have introduced Information System (IS) in providing their services. Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Bangladesh Railway have introduced computerised ticket reservation and booking system.
There was a remarkable change in preparing government accounts and budget with the introduction of IT based new classification system in 1998. The office of the Controller General of Accounts (CGA) has a main server known as Central Data Processing Unit (CDPU). The subordinate civil accounts offices are connected with the CDPU. Computerisation has improved the timeliness and accuracy of the calculations and reliability of accounting and preparation of budget, though there still remains room for improvement.
Rural Electrification Board (REB) has installed effective computerised solutions for preparation of their accounts and budget. Customs department is now fully automated in providing information about export, import, and revenue earnings at any time throughout the country. This means that public sectors in Bangladesh are at the take-off position in IT development.
The prevailing situation of SAI Bangladesh in respect of ICT: Until and unless a large number of public sectors are automated and provide their service through IT, the SAI cannot play significant role in IT audit or e-government audit. However, with the evolving introduction of Information System (IS) in different public sectors in Bangladesh, the SAI is also trying to improve its capacity in ICT. Before introducing IT audit, the SAI itself felt the necessity to be well equipped with IT infrastructure and IT development. In an attempt to build IT framework in SAI, a remarkable initiative was taken by SAI in 1999 under a project called 'Strengthening the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General' (STAG).
The STAG project procured a large number of hardware and software for regular operation of the C&AG office and its subordinate offices. A 35/70 GB Storage capacity DLT drive is installed at C&AG office. Audit directorates were connected through LAN with the main server, placed in Audit Bhaban (Office of the C&AG) by fiber optics.
Computerisation in the C&AG office began in 2001 and around 120 work-stations/PCs including servers have been installed in C&AG Office and different Audit Directorates. A website for the C&AG office has been developed and made available online. STAG project has developed three customised software named as: Audit Monitoring System (AMS); Personal Management System (PMS); and Central Management Information System (CMIS)
IT Audit and SAI of Bangladesh: IT audit, an integral part of audit activity, is treated separately to deal with specialised problems and to make economic use of personnel. IT audit must be carried out within the large audit framework. The overall work of IT auditing may be divided into followings:
l ascertaining the system and reviewing the organisational and operational controls of the computer department;
l ascertaining and reviewing application systems which are under development or developed;
l carrying out audits of live data and results for system in use; and
l carrying out performance audit on ICT.
Institutional reforms and IT expertise are required to conduct IT audit. In the mean time, the Ministry of Establishment has approved and sanctioned a post of Director (IT) at the C&AG office. Recently, an Information Technology (IT) and IT Audit Policy has been prepared by the office of the C&AG. The information Technology (IT) and IT Audit policy included the following statement:
l this policy incorporated a plan to form a group of IT auditors from the existing officers under the C&AG office. The C&AG himself has taken keen interest in IT training to staff and officers through the Financial Management Academy (FIMA);
l creation of IT Audit Wing;
l continuous professional development of IT Auditors; and
l external assistance from other SAls and donors will be sought for development of IT audit in future.
Stepping into IT audit: As many as 30 audited organisations in Bangladesh use ICT in their business processes. Under this perspective, SAI Bangladesh has already conducted a pilot audit on reservation and departure control system of Biman Airlines. Two audits have taken place on IT security in the audit directorates after installation of AMS (customised software for audit management). At present, a component under Financial Management Reforms Programme (FMRP) is working for further development in IT audit. A large number of staff are being trained in computer operations and also in using accounting software. Another new approach initiated by the present C&AG is to disseminate knowledge on IT through presentation session in the training academy frequently. It has given opportunity to auditors to be acquainted with the latest technology. Officers are now getting keen interest in learning ICT. Moreover C&AG himself is also encouraging his subordinates to be IT experts.
Recommendations on introducing IT audit by Supreme Audit Institution (SAI) in Bangladesh:
l SAI Bangladesh should proceed in IT audit corresponding to the development of IS in different public sectors.
l At this very initial stage, the utmost priority should be given to the formation of a potential group of IT experts and make them acquainted with the latest technology in IT audit. This core group should be involved only in IT activities in the department for a couple of years and then they need to be replaced by some other trained personnel. Without sufficient expertise, SAI should not proceed to IT audit particularly in a large and sophisticated system.
l Special organisational set up relating to IT is required to deal with IT activities in the department as well as introducing IT audit more effectively and efficiently.
l For human resource development, both local and foreign training should be given to a core group of people. Preparing a core group should be a continuous process.
l The department should be well equipped with ICT and Internet facilities to enhance knowledge and interest on ICT as well as E-Government audit.
l Auditors should be acquainted with the different software like Computer Assisted Audit Techniques and Tools (CAATs), Interactive Data Extraction and Analysis (IDEA) etc., so that they can use this software for conducting e-government audit.
l At the moment, the public sectors are procuring a large number of PCs and also gradually developing IS in their businesses. So it is a high time for the SAI to get expertise in auditing computer procurement and also the IS procurement. Security, user friendliness and sustainability of the system, efficiency and effectiveness of procurement, review of inputs and outputs of the system are all most potential issues for SAI so far.
The writer is Divisional Controller of Accounts, Rajshahi. By Courtesy: Review, the Quarterly Journal of the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of Bangladesh