Corporation likely to launch e-tendering soon

Even as the City Corporation is all set to take one more step towards complete transparency with the launch of e-tendering, a paperless office remains a distant dream as a majority of its operations is still carried out through paper files.

The technical work behind the e-tendering is almost complete and is expected to be launched soon. The local body will become the first one in the State to have the facility.

“Any contractor licensed by the Corporation can apply for tenders from any part of the world. Before this, the system was implemented by the Public Works Department for works above Rs.25 lakh. In the Corporation’s system, all works above Rs.5 lakh will have to be done through e-tendering. Around 70 per cent of our tenders will go through this route. The highlight is that the public can track the tender proceedings online at every stage,” says V.S. Padmakumar, chairperson of the Corporation’s works standing committee.

Digital signatures have been generated for the Executive Engineer and Assistant Executive Engineers. A nodal officer will also be appointed. The system will ensure that illegal arrangements like ‘rate adjustment’ between contractors will be hard to execute.

After the shift of building permit applications, social security pensions, birth/death and marriage registrations online, this is yet another step in the local body’s e-governance initiatives. But a closer look will prove that ‘paperwork’ as such is still not eliminated and even when these services are online, it requires that the applicants visit the office at least once at some stage of application.

Corporation sources say that the local body is still a long way away from complete computerisation. “There is no way forward in e-governance without the elimination of physical files. We have not been able to provide a service without any paperwork till now. A complete e-governance system for digitisation of the entire workflow is currently in testing stage at the Kochi Corporation. Plans are afoot to replicate this across the State. Since the State government has Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of this software system, it can be customised according to the requirements of other local bodies,” says the source.

Dissent within system

But this is easier said than done. There is opposition to computerisation from within the system as was evident in the case of the online building permits. The system is yet to take off in the Corporation’s 11 zonal offices.

Inspections of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau had, in 2011, found that certain Corporation officials ignored building permit applications filed online to seek illegal gratification from the applicants directly or through their architects, draftsmen, or contractors.

Another challenge is to train the employees who are used to years of working with pen and paper to shift to the keyboard.

“The lack of an easy system to key in Malayalam is a challenge. But technologies like writing pad can be implemented wherein the official concerned can write on a pad like they write on files. The technology is all available, it is just a matter of adopting it and integrating with existing systems,” says the source.

The lack of a sanctioned post for Information Technology (IT) in the Corporation is a challenge. Now, two employees working as part of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) are taking care of the entire e-governance activities of the local body. A dedicated set of IT staff, including network engineers and software and hardware experts, could do a world of good for the Corporation’s shift to complete e-governance.