ICTs for Government Transparency

In the Case Studies section

eTransparency Case Study No.5

Publishing Bangladesh Government Information via the Web

Case Study Authors

Moshtaq Ahmed (moshtaq76@yahoo.com)


Bangladesh's Ministry of Communication (MoC) set up a series of Web sites in 2003 to improve the flow of data from government to citizens.

Application Description

As a part of introducing e-governance, the Ministry of Communication in Bangladesh launched four Web sites of its major departments to enable citizen access to government information. In general terms, the Web sites provided information in English about the organisation, personnel and activities of the four agencies. More specifically, what has been published is:

The RHD Web site is the most advanced in terms of transparency, and has started to move beyond the simple publication of basic information found on the other sites. It provides details of employment vacancies within the department - information not easily available in one place for other government departments. It provides details of planned road projects for the year ahead; sufficient to enable vendors and contractors to identify major opportunities.

It also goes beyond just the basics of publication by opening up some of the internal departmental processes to public scrutiny. Details of staff promotions are posted on the Web site. Project information is also updated on a monthly basis to detail physical and financial progress on all of RHD's 182 infrastructural projects.

Role of ICT

ICT has been used in this project as an enabler, based around the Web as a publishing tool.

Application Drivers/Purpose

In rational terms, this project was driven by government policy, which contains a commitment that all government agencies "shall set up Web sites where all policy documents, forms, circulars, orders, notifications, etc. and information relevant to the public shall be posted and regularly updated." The Ministry of Communication was the first mover to try to implement this policy. The reason for this lies in the confluence of two other drivers. First, the Minister of Communication who has been a promoter of new technology in Bangladesh. Second, funding provided by the UK Department for International Development which has been seeking to improve the capacity and transparency of the Ministry, and which saw this project as a valuable tool.


The Minister and donor officials were key initiating stakeholders in this project. MoC staff were key stakeholders in its implementation. Businesses, and organisations of the media and civil society are key stakeholders in relation to intended project impact. The Centre for Policy Dialogue - a civil society organisation that seeks to improve the functioning of government - has been interested in this initiative. As noted next, citizens should principally be seen as indirect stakeholders.

Transparency and the Poor

Only a small fraction of the Bangladeshi population can read English; only a tiny fraction have access to the Web. This project certainly has nothing of direct relevance to offer Bangladesh's poor. However, the material provided - especially that on the RHD Web site - can be accessed by key intermediary organisations within the media and within civil society, who can then utilise that information on behalf of the poor. At present, though, that remains a potential utility of the project, rather than one based on any case evidence.

Impact: Costs and Benefits

The Web sites have been created as part of a much larger US$7 million, four-year reform project of the Ministry of Communication, 80% of which is donor-funded. Capital costs for the Web infrastructure were bundled into the larger project; maintenance costs for the Web site (ten staff plus Internet connection costs, excluding depreciation costs for IT) are around US$60,000 per annum. The larger project began in 1999; Web-related developments began in earnest in 2002, leading to launch in mid-2003.

The project has only just started, so the discernible impacts are limited. However, one can say that it has taken the first steps on a journey towards more transparent government. It has demonstrated to Ministry staff that basic information can and will be published for public consumption. It has demonstrated within the Roads and Highways Department that project and personnel information previously seen as internal - even secret - can and will be published. Though there is no hard evidence, this is likely to have caused some shift in working culture.

The benefits to citizens are unknown, but one should not underestimate the gains delivered by publication of even basic information in a medium of growing accessibility; information that was often hard to access before.

Evaluation: Failure or Success?

It is too early to evaluate the project.

Enablers/Critical Success Factors

  1. Institutional strengthening first, e-transparency second . You cannot build e-transparency on a base of corrupt or chaotic activity. Therefore donor-supported reform activities worked first to strengthen Ministry of Communication procedures and competencies before thinking of moving further. Partly as a result of this foundation work, the Roads and Highways Department was one of very few in the Bangladesh government that spent all its allocated money, and in which there was a fair relationship between the infrastructure it was supposed to build and what it actually did build. Being more transparent about project activities therefore held few fears or threats for RHD staff - there were relatively few 'skeletons in the cupboard' that Web-enabled transparency risked revealing.
  2. Internal Web development . Some Web-enabled e-transparency projects argue - typically for reasons of speed or expertise - that the Web development work should be outsourced to local or foreign staff. The MoC did not take this approach. Instead, Web expertise was identified and developed in-house. The result was reduced direct costs, development of in-house expertise, better understanding of project needs, and greater ownership and control over this project.
  3. Agency-owned ICT infrastructure . The hardware, software and network infrastructure for this project was not outsourced, but was all purchased for use by the Ministry. It is unclear to what extent this increased costs, but it certainly again helped to improve project ownership and control.


  1. Sustainability . It is relatively easy to set up sites like those described. The main question is whether they are still being updated in a few years' time. There are certainly examples of Web sites in certain Bangladesh ministries that were set up in a blaze of enthusiasm, but which then become 'cobWeb' sites that are never updated. The determinant will be not the technology, but the extent to which changed attitudes and procedures have truly been institutionalised within the Ministry of Communication. Only time will tell, particularly time after the current Minister moves on.
  2. Motivational issues . In general, MoC staff were not interested in the Web. Yet a basic familiarity with the Web among most staff was seen as essential if Web-enabled dissemination of information was to really take hold in the Ministry. The Web developers addressed this challenge in two ways. They created a Web-based chat system through which Ministry staff could chat online to friends and colleagues who were also connected. They also developed a Web-based discussion forum with various topics selected as interesting. In this way, Web-related attitudes and skills were altered.


  1. Find a champion . eTransparency projects require a top-level champion: found here in the Minister of Communication.
  2. Develop individual ownership . As noted above, internal development and infrastructure helped foster a general sense of e-transparency project ownership, particularly at senior level. However, this was reinforced with moves to develop more individual ownership by creating individual staff Web pages, complete with photographs and personal details. Staff were also enabled to amend/update these pages. By creating ownership at this individual level, a large tranche of staff feel committed to the Web project.
  3. Try to balance local innovation with central cooperation . There are good reasons why government agencies seek to go it alone with e-transparency projects; mainly because the costs of collaboration (i.e. the political and other transaction costs) are seen as too great, and likely to make the project fail. Local innovation - as seen above - helps generate the ownership and control that enable success. However, some limits may need to be set on this. Between Dhaka (Bangladesh's capital) and Chittagong (its second city), there are now five separate fibre-optic backbones set up by five different government agencies. Yet just one would be more than sufficient to transmit the required data volumes. Likewise, there is a growing tendency to reinvent wheels when developing e-transparency projects, when ideas, expertise, and designs could be shared.

Further Information

http://www.moc.gov.bd/ (originally launched as http://www.mocbangladesh.org)

http://www.rhd.gov.bd/ (originally launched as http://www.rhdbangladesh.org)

Case Details

Case Editor : Richard Heeks.
Author Data Sources/Role : Web Site, Documents and Observation; No Direct Role
Centrality of Transparency : Secondary. Type : Publication. Audience : External. Content : Mixed. Sector : Economic Services. Outcome : Too Early to Evaluate.
Region : South Asia. Start Date : 2003. Submission Date : December 2003.

Last updated on 19 October, 2008.
Please contact richard.heeks@manchester.ac.uk with comments and suggestions.