LAHORE: The Punjab has had a soft launch of a mobile application called BALDIAONLINE last Friday (Aug 14), bringing all 455 local governments online and facilitating people to get registered birth, death, marriage and divorce cases.

Chief Minister Usman Buzdar is expected to formally inaugurate the application in the next few days – depending on his schedule. This also explains why the provincial authorities are trying to keep it a low key affair and the officials avoiding speaking on it right now.

However, information coming from different official sources suggests that now all citizens of Pakistan, especially those living abroad, shall be able to contact 455 local governments of the province and it would become Reporting and Complaints Management Information System of local government and community development (LG&CD) department. In addition to these four registrations, people would also be able to lodge complaints and suggest improvements in local governance.

An official of the Punjab government, dealing with the application, says that public response has so far been spirited. Till Monday morning, around 10,000 people were registered on it. By afternoon, the number rose to over 100,000. The department hopes users will multiply by the time chief minister opens it.

“With the passage of time, more areas (like cleanliness and other civic services) might be added to it. The province is expected to have local bodies’ election shortly. The App may also have a role to play in it. All these are possibilities and government would learn along the way as more and more people get online to guide the government,” he explains and adds: “A separate dashboard has been developed for official use of all local governments where they would be able to see the online reports (as received from citizens and departments) and respond after taking action.”

Explaining the concept, a former director general (local governments) says traditionally a union council is used to register these four (birth, death, marriage and divorce) cases till National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) chimed in the process. However, the department got a lot of complaints of procedural delays in the process and started looking for ways to keep the process to itself. This situation provided the background for the development of application as the department started working on digitization for the last two years.

“However, it still remains a raw concept or a pilot project. The department is aware of the hiccups that it is going to face once implementation starts,” he continues.

For example, what would now be the role of Nadra. The Nadra used to charge Rs100 for each certificate – splitting it between itself and local government at a ratio of 60-40. How would this money now be collected? How would the local government verify information before issuing certificates? The department and Nadra have had huge complaints about misuse of certificates, especially by non-resident Pakistanis, for different services abroad. All these are question marks that the new process has to answer. However, digitization, as a concept, is essential and the department has to go for it one way or other,” he concludes.

Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2020