Learner’s Submission: The Power of Information

11/06/2014

“In Brazil, there are many ways to access relevant to actions of federal, state and local government information.

In our country, all municipalities and states have an official website. Most of these governments also have channels and official pages on social networks as well as advertisements on radio and television.

The federal government has, in addition to their official page (www.brasil.gov.br), official profiles on social networks such as Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/portalbrasil ), Twitter ( https://twitter.com / portalbrasil ) and Youtube Videos website.

In addition, the President of the Republic has a radio program called “Coffee with the President” that airs once a week where the president addresses matters of everyday life. All editions can be accessed through the program’s blog, hosted on the federal government website.

It is also customary in our country, on the eve of important dates such as vaccination campaigns, elections, and holidays like Mother’s Day and Labor Day the President of the Republic or event-related authorities to make pronouncements on national radio and television.

Another important media channel used by the government is a radio program called “The Voice of Brazil”. This program is the oldest radio and Brazil is in the air since 1935. It airs Monday through Friday at 7 pm when all the radio stations in Brazil. The program is divided into two parts. The first twenty- five minutes is devoted to the executive branch and the remaining thirty-five minutes are devoted to related news legislature. This program has been the target of demonstrations and protests from radio stations because its transmission is mandatory and many people argue that it has lost its purpose because of the ease of access to other media for greater reach.

Currently, the government channels in social networks have gained importance because these networks are extremely popular in Brazil. The number of Brazilians with access to social networks at home, at work and even on mobile is growing continuously.

The residence time of people, connected in a network also increases day by day. Having access to the government in this environment is very useful because this way we can find out the government’s actions while interacting with friends on social networks. After all, these actions directly affect the lives of every Brazilian person.

The social media channels are more than important, are fundamental to the development of democracy and Brazilian society, as we have experienced times of constant mobilization and social upheaval upon the problems of our country, where people have cared increasingly with quality of life, with life in society, with the preservation of life, safety and nature.

Moreover, many of the protesters do not care much about the government’s actions. Therefore, if such claims are fair, everyone must have access to accurate information and reliable source, so the official government channels in many imprecise information environment is critical”.  Rodrigo Leandro Sobrinho- Sao Paulo, Brazil

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Learner’s Submission: Access to Data in Ethiopia

04/11/2013

“We are living in the age of information where information is power where data access is a key factor for its effect.  In light of this Ethiopia has legislation that anyone has the right to access data and some people in the country had expected that this condition would be favorable for the development of the free access for data.

From my experience and practical activities I have learned that as most people in Ethiopia are illiterate, there is no good culture to put data to access for the people. Even those who are educated do have poor tradition and system to store data and retrieve it to make it accessible for the community.  It is mostly, not always, attributed by poor information technology infrastructure of the country.

If someone goes to the government offices to access data, it is common to get a response of ‘no data’ or ‘it takes time to get it, come back another time’ as data are not stored in a scientific and systematic way.  On top of this, most government offices consider their office data as their sole property which do have no value for others. Therefore, someone has to pass lots of bureaucracies to access data in Ethiopia in government offices.

On the contrary, it is common to see the word ‘transparency’ displayed in office walls as one of the values of government offices. Government Medias also frequently talks about transparency and access to data in spite of the fact that the reality is to the opposite.

Most literate people do have better knowledge than the illiterates that everyone has the right to access data for a good purpose with limited restrictions in some cases.

It is undeniable that there is improvement in accessing data coupled with people’s awareness change on the right of accessing it in the country.

The situation is worse in private companies and organizations. Unless  someone is a part of that organization/institution, getting data in the private sectors is quite complex task in Ethiopia. In some cases people my also provide incorrect data thinking that they will be blamed.

Many researchers in Ethiopia complain that most people do not give reliable data due to low understanding of the value of it. However, it is clear that data determines people’s life as they are sources for every decision.

Therefore, it is really high time to say ‘there should be suite environment to access data in the country both in the private and government offices’, without which the achievement of good governance would be unthinkable since the fundamentals behind the implementation of access to data and information and bringing about good governance both principally and practically are of the same nature.

Many people including me were accessing data and information for some cases but many complain that it is very complicated to get data from government offices due to the bureaucracy and unwillingness of officials. Except some cases, getting the government offices’ data on internet on different issues is unthinkable due to different constraints like poor information communication infrastructures and unavailability of the data.

It is expected that media and government work closely together and cooperate in many if not in all areas of endeavor in the country for better receiving and disseminating of information. In turn, Medias in most aspects provide information for the people.

To the contrary, it is common  to see  private medias complaining that the press law has prohibited them to provide data and information for the people.

I tried my level best to use the country’s legislation on access to data. Particularly, I am an advocator and practitioner in applying laws data related to individuals needs to be handled carefully and in accordance with the Data Protection Act of the country.

I strongly believe that the data available in my government could not be safe. Though the constitution states that people’s data should always be maintained and the privacy of individuals/organizations/institutions should be protected, individual’s data and information are frequently appearing in different publication without getting permission from individuals. I believe that someone may need to consider if there are any economic, social, security or political risks associated with the release of the data.

The country has a law how to use data owned by a third party (copyright material, software or database). Someone needs to understand the terms under which these are obtained and the scope of use. However, it is common in the country using data without obtaining permission from the data owner for re-use of such material.

In general, there is good understanding among the people and the government in the country that access to data is vital for decisions though accessing it is complicated task which shows only little improvement due to poor information technology infrastructure and low number of literacy rate in the country.” – Tadele Demissie – Amhara, Ethiopia


Learner’s Submission: Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in India

30/10/2013

“In this article, I will discuss on the topic of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – one of the most ambitious social welfare measures of Government of India for poverty alleviation and rural development.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, popularly known as MGNREGA, is an Act to provide for the enhancement of the livelihood security of the households in rural areas of the country by providing at least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment (through unskilled manual work) in every financial year to every household. The very purpose of the scheme is two-fold, first to provide job on demand to ensure livelihood security and second, at the same time, to create assets to augment the basic infrastructures available to the rural people. The MGNREG Act was notified on September 07, 2005.

The employment under MGNREGA Scheme (MGNREGS) is an obligation on the part of the Government to provide employment within 5km radius of the village at the minimum wage (for example, INR 174/- per day in the State of Karnataka), failing which an unemployment allowance is to be provided within 15 days.  Along with community participation, the MGNREGS scheme is being implemented primarily by the gram panchayats. Under the Scheme, mostly the labour intensive works like creating infrastructures for water harvesting, drought relief and flood control are undertaken.

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Coverage by MGNREGA Scheme:

Starting from 200 districts in Feb 2006, the MGNREGS Scheme now covers all districts of India from April 01, 2008. AS of now, the implementation status of the project (as mentioned in the official web site of MGNREGA www.nrega.nic.in) is as follows:

Number of States covered – 32

Number of Districts covered – 596

Number of Blocks covered – 6388

Number of Panchayats covered – 240233

Number of Job Cards issued- 112.90 Million

Number of Persons registered – 248.80 Million

Workflow of MGNREGS Scheme

The MGNREGS Scheme is implemented in India through a web-based Management Information System (MIS) – “NREGASoft” to address the planning and monitoring needs of the Scheme. This is a local language enabled workflow based e-Governance System and is available in offline as well as online mode to capture all the activities under MGNREGA at the Centre/State/District/Block and Panchayat level.

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Payment of Wage through Direct Benefit Transfer

The payment of wages is made by the Government directly to the worker’s account by electronic means, called Direct Benefit Transfer System (DBTS). This DBTS system leverages the payment gateways such as Aadhaar Payment Bridge (APB), National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT), Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), National Electronic Clearing Service (NECS) and Banks’ Core Banking Solutions. This DBTS facilitates the direct credit of the wage to the Bank/Post Accounts of the beneficiaries through automated processes.

As per newspaper reports (The Hindu, 15 May, 2013), Govt. of India has allocated to the State of Karnataka Rs. 2,1330 million for the implementation of the MGNREGS scheme in 2013-14. According to the Karnataka State government’s notification on April 9, 2013, the month-wise expenditure (for Karnataka) under the job scheme would be as follows:

Month Expenditure in Million Rupees Month Expenditure in Million Rupees
April 2013 133.8 Oct 2013 1601.6
May 2013 287.6 Nov 2013 2286.8
June 2013 381.9 Dec 2013 2494.2
Jul 2013 472.1 Jan 2014 2759.2
Aug 2013 713.8 Feb 2014 4058.6
Sep 2013 1361.7 Mar 2014 4778.3

Assessment of MGNREGA

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India on the second performance audit of the MGNREGS that covered 3848 gram panchayats in 28 states and 4 union territories of India from April 2007 to March 2012 highlighted the 3 most significant factors – lack of public awareness, mismanagement and institutional incapacity. Accordingly, the 3 major recommendations were Capacity Building, Public Awareness and Effective Management.

 

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(Major Recommendations of the CAG Audit on MGNREGS)

Conclusion:

To address the lack of public awareness, mismanagement and institutional incapacity, the CAG has suggested a number of recommendations to the Ministry of Rural Development and Government of India. To increase the public awareness, it recommends intensifying the Information, Education and Communication (IEC) Activities. The CAG also recommends proper management of records at the gram panchayat level. For capacity building, the CAG recommends to fill the large number of vacancies through mass recruitment. Like any other government welfare schemes, MGNREGS is also difficult to implement due to governance challenges like elite capture, leakage and corruption. The efforts of the Government of India in implementing the MGNREGS Schemes successfully are highly appreciated.” – Srihari Subudhi – New Delhi, India

 


Learner’s Submission: Online Tax Payment Services Offered by Banks in India

14/10/2013

“In this article, I will discuss about the online tax payment services being offered by various banks in India.

Banks play a very important role in facilitating the various E-Governance initiatives of the Government of India and various State Governments. In various Government Schemes like  Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Scholarship schemes for Students , pension schemes, LPG-subsidy schemes etc., the money is transferred directly (by the Government) to the bank account of the concerned beneficiary, through “Direct Benefit Transfer”. Such direct transfers eliminate the middle-men thereby enhancing transparency & effective governance, delivered by the Government directly to the citizens.

The Indian Banking sector has witnessed substantial growth during the last 2 decades. With the financial reforms during early 1990s and subsequent technology adoption by banks have led to Banks’ significant growth.  The new private banks with latest technologies like Core Banking Solution (CBS) from day one have prompted the “not so tech-savvy” public sector banks to adopt technologies.  With the Reserve Bank of India’s initiatives for greater technology adoption by banks, all major banks have now implemented CBS in their Banks. All major public sector banks now have technology infrastructures comparable to that of the private counter-parts. In India, today, all major private and public sector banks offer almost all technology-enabled services like ATM, Phone Banking(24×7 Call Centre), Internet Banking, Mobile Banking, National Electronic Fund Transfer (NEFT), Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS), Cheque Truncation system etc.

All major banks (public as well as private) in India now offer Internet Banking. Through Bank’s Internet banking, banks facilitate the online tax payment, in which the tax payer directly pays (online) the various taxes to the government. That too, with the comfort of sitting at home/office at any time convenient to the tax payer. Gone are those days when the tax payers had to stand in long queues for paying the taxes. Thanks to the Online Tax Payment Services!

Online Tax Payment Services by Banks

How it works:

The Government has arrangements with various major banks (public and private) in India for online tax payment services. The taxes include direct taxes (Income Tax, TDS, Corporation Tax, Security Transaction Tax, Estate Tax, Wealth Tax, Gift Tax, Cash transaction Tax, Fringe Benefit Tax etc.) and Indirect taxes (Customs, Excise, Service Tax), various State Government Taxes like Value Added Tax (VAT), Entertainment Tax etc.

Depending upon the arrangements made by the respective tax authority with the particular bank, there can be 2 models of how a tax payer can pay his taxes online.

Model-1: Through the Web Site of the Tax Authority.

Under this Model, the tax payer visits the web site (URL) of the concerned tax authority (example, for income tax, the tax payer visits http://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/). He selects/inputs appropriate options/values/amount, along with the choice of the “Bank” through which he wants to pay the tax. Depending upon the Bank selected, he is redirected to the respective Bank’s Internet banking site where he is asked to enter his Internet Banking login Id & password. The tax payer inputs his internet banking login id & password (additional authentication like Transaction password, One Time Password, Random number generated by a Token etc. may be required as per authentication procedure of the Bank).  On successful authentication, the transaction gets completed with instant debit of the amount from the tax payer account with the bank followed by credit of the amount to the account of the tax authority with the Bank. The tax payer also gets instant Acknowledgement (called e-receipt) of the tax payment.

Model-2: Through the Web site of the tax payer’s Bank.

Under this Model, the tax payer visits the Internet banking web site of his Bank (i.e. the Bank in which the tax payer maintains his account). For example, if the tax payer is having his bank account with Oriental bank of Commerce, he visits OBC Internet Banking web site https://www.obconline.co.in and logs in using his OBC Internet Banking login id & password (additional authentication like Transaction password, One Time Password, Random number generated by a Token etc. may be required as per authentication procedure of the Bank). Then the user (tax payer) selects appropriate options for the tax to be paid, amount, etc. The transaction gets completed with instant debit of tax payer’s account with the bank followed by instant credit of the amount to the account of the tax authority with the Bank. The tax payer also gets instant Acknowledgement (called e-receipt) of the tax payment.” – Srihari Subudhi – New Delhi, India


Learner’s Submission: El acceso a la información en México

27/09/2013

“En México la legislación existente es la Ley Federal de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública Gubernamental, en la cual se establece cual es la información que se considera pública y la manera en que se puede acceder a ella. El principal objetivo de esta ley es fomentar un ambiente de transparencia y rendición de cuentas; para lo cual resulta necesario mejorar la organización, clasificación y manejo de los documentos que son administrados por las diferentes dependencias del gobierno. En cierta medida esta ley establece las pautas para definir la información que se publica en la página Web de cada dependencia, que puede considerarse como una de las herramientas más valiosas de comunicación entre la ciudadanía y las dependencias gubernamentales.

Para vigilar la aplicación de dicha Ley, fue establecido el Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, el cual es un organismo que tiene por misión garantizar el derecho de los ciudadanos a la información pública gubernamental y a la privacidad de sus datos personales, así como promover en la sociedad y en el gobierno la cultura del acceso a la información, la rendición de cuentas y el derecho a la privacidad. El IFAI cuenta con un portal en Internet, llamado Infomex, el cual tiene un rol muy importante dentro del acceso a la información, porque a través de este portal se gestionan las solicitudes de acceso a la información.

Como México es una República Federal, el IFAI se encarga de la información del gobierno federal, y por otra parte, existen disposiciones locales en las diferentes entidades federativas que establecen los organismos responsables de la información para cada una, por ejemplo, en el Distrio Federal se cuenta con la Ley de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública del D.F. para regular el acceso a la información relacionada con el gobierno local del Distrito Federal; en este caso la autoridad competente es el Instituto de Acceso a la Información Pública del Distrito Federal y la plataforma en Internet, InfomexDF.

Como empleado del gobierno federal he participado en la elaboración de respuestas a las solicitudes de información que formulan los ciudadanos, teniendo en cuenta las disposiciones que se encuentran en la ley antes mencionada; lo que me ha permitido conocer los mecanismos para someter una solicitud de información y consultar las respuestas que se ofrecen; aunque, como ciudadano, no he sometido este tipo de solicitudes, porque hasta el momento la información que he necesitado la he encontrado disponible en las páginas de internet de las dependencias que generan o administran esta información.

Asi como existe acceso a la información, también existen restricciones a la información que puede hacerse pública, en la ley antes mencionada también se establece el tipo de información que puede ser clasificada como reservada y a la que no es posible acceder. Dentro de esta información, actualmente se está poniendo enfásis en la protección de los datos personales, no solo aquellos que son proporcionados a las entidades gubernamentales, sino a entre particulares, ya que este tipo de información es muy sensible, pero a la vez necesaria de conocer por las personas que la solicitan.” – David Correa Piña – Mexico City, Mexico


Learner’s Submission: A Case Study on Decentralization in Nigeria

26/09/2013

  • Nigeria as Country has adopted a three (3) tier system or structure of governance.
  • This is the Federal, State and Local Government.
  • Each of these arms of government has been empowered constitutionally to carry out certain functions, roles and responsibilities to the citizens of Nigeria.
  • The federal government or central government consists of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
  • The executive consists of the president and vice president who are elected for tenure of four years. It also includes cabinet ministers and special advisers mainly appointed by the president.
  • The executive is responsible for articulating the vision and direction of the country in terms of economic policies, infrastructural development, security, international relations, and citizen development for the country at large. It is also responsible for initiating and implementing policies guidelines that will lead to achieving its vision for the country.
  • The legislative arm of the federal government consists of the Senate and House of Representatives whose major responsibility is to make laws for the good governance of the country. It also performs oversight functions on the executive.

 

  • The judiciary is the third arm of the central government. It has the powers to interpret and enforce the laws of the country.
  • The state government is the next level in this structure of governance. Nigeria has thirty six states and each state is lead by a governor and a deputy governor also elected for four year tenure. The governor also appoints commissioners and special advisers who form the state executive and work with the governor to achieve the states articulated development agenda.
  • Every state executive has the responsibility for developing the infrastructure, economy, education and health sectors of their respective states. They build roads, schools, health care centers, and market centers etc that will beneficial to residents of the state. Sometimes they collaborate with the central government to build infrastructures and other social amenities that may be to large for the state to handle. State governments are also responsible for the security and safety of individuals within their state.
  • Every state also has a house assembly that makes laws for the good governance of the state and also carries out oversight functions on the state executive.
  • There is also the state judicial system which interprets the laws made by the state assembly and enforces it.
  • The next level of government in this governance structure is the local government. In Nigeria there are seven hundred and seventy four constitutionally recognized local government councils.
  • These councils are headed by elected local government chairmen for three (3) year tenure. These chairmen are supported by elected councilors who together with the chairmen administer the affairs of the local councils.
  • Every local council is responsible for building and maintaining basic infrastructure within their domains and these include constructing feeder roads, building and staffing of cottage hospitals or primary health care centers, building and maintaining community primary and secondary schools etc.
  • They are also in charge of the building community markets, payment of salaries of all staff who work in this tier of government.
  • The local government is the bastion of agriculture and food production in Nigeria. Most Nigeria farmers are still rural in nature and a huge percentage of arable land used for farming is located within the local councils. This is why a large part of government agriculture intervention programs are situated and channeled to local councils.
  • The local government council is the government nearest to the citizens. It is a legal representation of the central government, from where citizens can interact and engage with government.
  • This is the nature and structure of decentralized governance in Nigeria. ”  Vincent Hope – Wudil, Nigeria

Learner’s Submission: My Data and My Country

26/08/2013

Preamble

Identity theft for a long period has become a global menace to personal identification and data protection. Individuals- wealthy and poor- and corporate organizations have become victims of identity theft. Nigeria with many challenges on its shoulder is teetering on the brink of identity theft; hence the scourge thereon has become a kick in the teeth to Nigeria given that Nigeria does not have a law on data protection, despite its leading role in Africa. To my knowledge there is no law on data protection that exists in Nigeria. A proposed bill- Personal Information and Data Protection Bill- is still in pipeline and its passage into law seems like an illusion given the torrents of reservations that have been put forth by various stakeholders. The proposed bill is at variance with the contemporary best practices in international laws and some section of Chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria- the section that deals with the Fundamental Rights of citizens. Strikingly, the Bill is devoid of necessary ingredients to tackle data protection issues. Countries like Ghana, South Africa and Egypt have gone ahead of Nigeria in data protection policies. In the global world today, many countries are embracing the challenges of identity theft by fine-tuning ways to protect personal information of their citizens and preserve the image of their corporate organizations through potentially effective legislations. Nigeria seems to be comfortable living at the medieval where people’s identities had less importance. Nigeria really needs to wake up and smell the coffee!

Existing Legislations and flaws

Basically, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the premise on which other existing laws are based. The existing laws that referred to protection of personal information in Nigeria are in furtherance of fundamental rights as enshrined in section 37- the section that deals with the Right to Private and Family Life- and other relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, for example section 39- the section that deals with the Right to Freedom of Expression and the Press. But these provisions are handicapped by section 45- the section that deals with Restriction on and Derogation from Fundamental Human Rights.

Beside the Constitution, data protection is somehow referred to in the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, 2011 which inter alia aims to enhance public access to information and protect public records and information as well personal privacy. Section 14 of the FOI Act deals with the exemption of personal information- circumstances upon which applications that seek personal information of others can be denied or granted. Though the provisions contained thereon may seem glamorous to the purpose of data protection, but they leave a hole in the fabrics of data protection as they only make reference to personal information in the saddle of public institutions, with no recourse to personal information in the pocket of private firms.

Registration of Telephone Subscribers Regulation (RTS) 2011, previously known as SIM Card Registration Regulation 2010, enshrines data protection, so to speak, as stipulated in section 11- the section that deals with Data Protection. The RTS 2011 makes reference to General Consumer Code Practice for Telecommunications Services, which therein in section 35 contains mechanism for data protection, but for consumers of telecommunications services in Nigeria. Though these regulations seem, to an extent, to embody some sort of outlook and effort to entrench data protection principles in the telecommunication industry, I do not have the firm conviction that the information about myself and my family that I have exposed in the course of Sim Card Registration and(or) other form of registration are well protected given the illicit and erroneous treatment of personal information in Nigeria, which are incidental consequences of the absence of a well detailed legal framework that guides data protection. These regulations seem more like a watery sun hung in the autumn sky. It is really ridiculous that upon violation of data protection provisions as contained in those regulations by some violator(s), the regulators do not treat such breach of data protection as a gross violation of the victims’ right to privacy, but rather as a mere breach of regulations with paltry financial and (or) trifling corporate sanctions that are mere scratch on the surface. This does not show the muscle of a regulation that is hell-bent on tearing down the thick walls of data protection menace.

It is very unfortunate that despite all the hullabaloos about financial sector restructuring and reinvention by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), particular in the banking sector, that Nigeria still cannot boast of a single data protection law in the sector. To my knowledge, no law exists for data protection in the financial sector. Even the Banking and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) does not guarantee that. Customers disclose high volume of sensitive information to their banks, which unfortunately if misused cannot be enforced by customers, yet regulators with the statutory rights perform noticeably poor in protecting privacy of personal information of these gullible customers. The situation in the financial sector as compared to telecommunication sector seems to be worrisome.

Conclusion

In conclusion, given the astronomical increase in technology-driven activities with the resulting necessities for public and private institutions to seek for people’s personal data and information, where those information and date have become valuable to the seeker, the need to protect those information and data about people have become paramount. Time is now ripe for the Nigerian government to wake up and embrace the global trend in establishing data protection laws. ” – Okonkwo Julius Chukwuma – Abuja, Nigeria


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