Electronic Government. Where Dreams Lead
The electronic government programme, like all new large-scale initiatives, is causing great debate in our country. Interestingly, there are only a few people who are opposed to this project, so the debate is only about its implementation. Midterm results of the programme are arousing particular controversy amid the successful development of private sector e-services.
Let us recall that the establishment and development of e-government is being conducted in four stages. The first stage envisages publishing and distributing information. The second is about offering online services through direct interaction and feedback between a government agency and a citizen. The third stage is transaction cooperation through a government portal of financial and legal operations. The fourth phase is the formation of an information society.
The third stage is currently underway. It should be noted that an important component of the project is the Programme to Reduce Information Inequality, which aims to raise the level of computer literacy of the population to enable it to use e-government services.
The e-government project was launched in 2005. What have we achieved by mid-2008? In late August, the Centre for Socio-Political Studies published the results of its opinion poll about the development of e-government. The main conclusion of the poll is that the level of demand for information and services offered, on the one hand, and the level of government agencies’ readiness to offer e-services, on the other, are very low. Moreover, the poll showed that there was no need for static information reference systems.
Why is there no demand for such information to be provided? Because, above all, it does not enable the population to solve specific problems and does not answer its specific questions. Ideally, surfing the e-government website (www.e.gov.kz) should replace visits to various offices to collect documents and so on. This is not taking place yet. It is like filling in a questionnaire: officials should not just draft the questions but also try to complete it so that debatable issues stand out or the sheer absurdity of some questions is uncovered straight away. This is particularly true of the websites of e-government and government agencies. Yes, at first, they seem to contain many pages and offer various pieces of information. Everything seems fine, but when one wants to solve specific problems it turns out that there is no relevant information or it is hard to find.
Here is a simple example. Every driver knows how traffic police officers behave: they think they are little kings, while the drivers facing them are powerless creatures. After talking to them once again, the author has tried to find out about his rights and the rights and duties of traffic officers. Although it was possible to find some kind of information on the Kazakh Traffic Police Committee’s website (www.roadpolice.kz), it turned out to be incomplete.
Mikhail Tyunin, the director of the Information Initiative Foundation, agrees: “The information posted on the websites of government agencies does not meet the population’s needs. The problem is not that officials do not want to provide information but that they do not know about the volume and quality of what can be posted on the website. No-one knows what sort of information is open to the public and what should be published compulsorily.”
The E-Government Development Programme in 2008-2010 was adopted at a Kazakh government meeting on 27 November 2007. According to the Chair of the Communications and Information Committee, Kuanyshbek Yesekeyev, the programme will expand the e-government infrastructure, covering all regional centres and major towns: four regional centres and Almaty in 2008, seven regional centres in 2009 and three regional centres in 2010. E-government’s pay portal will be commissioned for industrial exploitation in 2008. The central budget has allocated 16.5 billion tenge for fulfilling this programme in 2008-2010.
Study, study and study!
Another reason for the lack of demand for e-government services is the extremely low level of Kazakhs’ awareness about the opportunities offered by these services. The Programme to Reduce Information Inequality should partly resolve this issue, but it also unfortunately suffers from the same problem: very few people know about it. If we go by official information, the programme is quite successful: the number of people involved in mastering computer skills under this programme reached 780,295 people in 2007 alone. As of 1 August 2008, 2,512 computer classes taught, tested and certified 265,032 people. In total, 854,410 people, or 5.7% of the country’s total population, are expected to be taught computer literacy in 2008.
Computer classes operating during summer school holidays have been set up in secondary schools. The highest number of summer classes opened this year was in South Kazakhstan Oblast (395 classes taught, tested and certified 15,728 people), Karaganda Oblast (229 classes, 8,062 people) and Almaty Region (220 classes, 11,878 people).
Another issue is how these groups are formed. Since there are almost no promotion campaigns, many people simply do not know about the possibility of attending free computer literacy courses. That is why it is not at all strange to find that classes are made up of relatives and neighbours of the computer teachers. In addition, according to the Computer Club magazine, the courses are often attended by people who happen to be working near the schools or who are parents of schoolchildren involved in these schemes. Indeed, the parents may actually be obliged to follow these courses.
The author himself has heard complaints by trainers who teach under this programme that “we do not know where to find people to join our classes – we do not have anyone to teach”.
The Programme to Reduce Information Inequality, which was drafted by the Communications and Information Committee, has been under way since 2007 and will be completed in 2009. The programme aims to reduce information inequality in Kazakhstan and to achieve a 20% level of computer literacy among the population at large. The programme is expected to create favourable conditions for citizens to efficiently use the Internet and e-services in everyday life.
Under the programme, 2,512 classes, of which 512 are year-round and 2,000 are summer classes, are set up all over the country every year.
Everyone who expresses the desire to attend courses is taught computer literacy for free. Each citizen who completes a state-funded computer literacy courses receives a certificate.
In 2008, the central budget allocated 244 million tenge for implementing the programme in Almaty Region alone.
Business starts and wins
At the same time, various private initiatives to promote e-services are quite successful. For example, the United System of Instant Payments company’s turnover exceeded $38.7m in Kazakhstan in the first half of 2008. This is a 707.64% growth from the same period of 2007. The number of outlets linked to the company’s payment system has exceeded 2,500 in Kazakhstan, of which 1,200 self-service vending machines. The number of these machines grew by 204.44% year on year in the first six months of 2008. This figure is expected to be increased to 4,000 by the end of 2008.
These figures show that the increase in turnover does not only help expand the network of machines but also sizeably boost the frequency of use, proving that this sort of service is in high demand by the population. For instance, over 14.26 million payments were made in Kazakhstan in the first half of the year through the company’s system. Meanwhile, over 20 service providers were linked to this system in this period. Cooperation agreements were signed with major mobile operators – Beeline, K’Cell and Neo – as well as Internet and cable television providers.
Simplicity, convenience and operating reliability are components of these projects’ success. This should be achieved in state-run projects too. Why is the number of both corporate and individual users of Internet banking growing rapidly? This is mainly prompted by traffic jams in Almaty: no-one wants to sit in jams, which is why Almatynians have minimised their wasted time by using new services.
Through the Internet, banking systems can be used to pay for telecom services, utility bills and taxes, open and top up deposits, transfer money from one bank account to another and, of course, track all banking operations on our accounts at any time. The main advantages of using Internet banking for managing your accounts are, firstly, convenience and time saving (you will not need to visit a bank branch) and, secondly, 24-hour-a-day and seven-day-a-week access from any location in the world.
Kazkommertsbank said in a press release in early July that the number of users registered on its homebank.kz portal had exceeded 150,000 people, while the number of corporate e-banking clients had exceeded 11,000. The total figure was increasing by more than 5,000 a month.
Halyk Bank has said that its Mobile Banking system registered its 250000th user in late June and that its client base is growing by 29 people an hour.
This bank launched Kazakhstan’s first system to manage bank accounts by mobile telephone on 19 April 2005 as part of the pilot Mobile Bank – Verified by Visa project jointly with Visa CEMEA. This system now covers all Kazakh mobile operators (Altel with the Dalacom and Pathword brands, Kar-Tel with Beeline, GSM Kazakhstan with K’Cell and Activ and Mobile Telecom Service with the Neo brand) and three Kyrgyz operators (Sky Mobile with Bitel and MobiCard, BiMoCom with MegaCom and Aktel with Fonex). One can subscribe to its service through any of the bank’s ATMs in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – only the bank’s card and a mobile phone are needed for this.
The holder of a Halyk Bank card receives, as a subscriber to the service, an instant SMS notification about any operation on his card (purchase, payment, salary, money transfer and so on). Moreover, e-commerce was officially launched in Kazakhstan in late December 2007 – Halyk Bank and Beeline announced the launch of a joint project. The bank’s applet and digital signature key were attached on Beeline SIM cards. As a result, Halyk clients acquired the option of paying for the services of over 40 companies in Kazakhstan (utility bills, mobile services, the Internet, cable television and others) by using their mobile phones.
National companies are also slowly joining this process. The Kazakhstan Temir Zholy railway company and Passazhirskiye Perevozki passenger transport enterprise launched a pilot project to sell tickets online (available only on the Almaty-Astana route) last summer. Only an Internet connection and a plastic card are needed to buy an e-ticket. “One just needs to visit our website, register, choose travel details, such as train number, date and time, and insert their data and bank account details and pay for the ticket,” says Bakhyt Aysanova, deputy director of a processing centre.
However, there is still a need to go for the ticket. A future passenger receives a special code based on the result of the Internet operation which must be produced together with identification documents in a ticket office to receive the ticket. This means that the advantages of this innovation are not that significant – indeed the only advantage may be the fact that you can buy your ticket in advance without leaving office or home.
Another example is the Air Astana company, which has switched to 100% issuance of e-tickets. The company’s president, Peter Foster, has described this event as “a revolutionary step for Kazakhstan”.
In general, the practice of private initiatives shows that Kazakhstan is quite ready for e-life. It is only necessary to demonstrate and explain the advantages of e-services to the population and, maybe, to advertise them. Perhaps the government simply needs to change its approach to the e-government project, shifting the focus from the process to its result and aiming to satisfy needs, not to impose certain solutions. It should also work with the private sector on this. The business community has already successfully adopted many more e-government services than expected. Therefore, there is no need to duplicate some systems and reinvent the wheel, when simply efficient cooperation is needed.
By Aleksandr Vasiliyev
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