Microsoft founder Bill Gates has no opinion on the Indian government’s move to demonetise high-value currency notes. He is more of a digitization man.
“I don’t know enough,” says Gates on the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes..
He is in India on a three-day visit that included a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and speaking at Niti Ayog’s Transforming India series
“I arrived in India and saw long queues at ATMs at the airport. I was told, that’s demonetisation! That’s all I know,” says the 61-year-old technocrat and philanthropist who co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Foundation with his wife Melinda.
Gates is more vocal in his support for digitization, which he says is a good thing because it’s an inclusive platform for all users, including the poor, to use basic mobile phones and similar platforms to access to payment, savings, insurance, credit services and micro-finance.
“Increasing digital financial inclusion brings dramatic benefits of better interest rates, smart savings and transparency, but it won’t completely replace cash,” says Gates.
He gives the example of Kenya, where the mobile phone-based financial service m-pesa has been in use for close to a decade.
“Everyone uses digital payments and cash use is down in Kenya, but I have not seen a shop that still doesn’t accept cash.
“Tax collection is easier on digital so if you think that fair for people to pay taxes, it’s good,” he adds.
Data is critical to improve tracking and efficiency and this is most evident in the public health delivery system.
“Technology can improve tuberculosis-drug compliance, for example, when a person gives a missed call to a number after taking the TB medicine,” says Gates.
“It helped in polio eradication. My favourite story is when I told the President of Chad, ‘your polio system screwed up’, and he said, ‘tell me who to sack’. That’s when we realized we did not know and we needed a delivery system to identify what was not working and what was.:
“Helping them (governments) understand where the money will go will help them invest. Public health spending is very inadequate in India, it has to go up to at least 2%-2.5% of the GDP to get the job done,” says Gates.
Gates was less forthcoming about US President-elect Donald Trump.
“I don’t have much to say, I will have to see… We’ve worked with Republican Presidents. A lot of stuff came under George Bush between 2001 and 2009, foreign aid went up during that period more than ever before.”