With the Indian elections less than three months away, here is a look at what I wrote before the previous general election five years ago (in March 2004). The following is an excerpt from the section on Governance:
Every elected representative should be mandated to keep an updated website which provides continued coverage of the activities being done. It should be possible to map promises and action. A discussion area in every constituency website should provide a forum for the local citizens to air their comments and problems. The Internet can thus work as a two-way information bridge between the government and the citizens. This will create for more meaningful and responsible governance.
At a bigger level, citizens should also be invited to air their comments on policy. Occasionally, different government departments do put up discussion papers for comments. In most cases, it is hard to find out about these unless one closely tracks the websites. This is where wikis, weblogs and RSS can make a big difference: wikis can provide a forum for discussion, weblogs can provide information on the updates for each of the government departments, and RSS can ensure that these updates are available for syndication to interested citizens. By standardizing how each government department disseminates information, it will become easier for citizens to find out what is happening and then be able to contribute back in their fields of expertise. If India needs to leap forward, it needs to harness the collective intelligence of its people – a publish-subscribe framework ensures just that.
Every government department should also be asked to publish its statement of accounts online, with a capability to drill down into the numbers. Supporting vouchers should be scanned and available electronically for examination. Let our accountants then go through these and point out discrepancies if any. This is one way to ensure that funds get used for what they are supposed to be. No single entity may be able to go through all of the details, but as a community few errors will escape the group. This idea borrows from open-source software: by publishing the source and using the eyes of the developers community, there are few bugs which are left unattended to in the software.