Improving public services online in Kazakhstan and making sure that they are freely accessible has become one of the most important strategic objectives set bythe country’s President, Nursultan Nazarbayev. Senate deputy, member of the Committee on Economic Policy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development, Ashat Kuzekov answered our questions on how these tasks are carried out by the legislature and described the benefits of “Mobile Government” programmes.
The range of public services offered is becoming increasingly broad. Therefore, the number of regulations, which reinforce legislation on providing this service, are increasing. Not so long ago, you were considering another bill on e-government services. Could you elaborate what it provides that is new?
The bill on optimising and automating social and labour public services was an additional step forward in relations between the state and society. Now, through the “electronic government,” citizens are able to submit the necessary documents for their basic pension payments and state social benefits by age, social payments for loss of work and childcare. The government’s integrated information system will reduce the number of required documents and deadlines for public services. For example, in the future, to formalise the basic pension, only one document will be needed, the identity card, instead of the five currently needed.\The waiting period between submission and receiving the service will be reduced from one week to one hour.
How well is the electronic government taking off?
In general, this programme was implemented in stages. Today, we can talk about the successful completion of the most complex, informational, interactive and transactional tasks with electronic document management systems and databases. We have also overcome a fourth step, the transformation.
As an example, we can provide birth certificates, registration benefits for childcare and registering the baby for kindergarten. Now, we can talk about a new stage of development, the transition to mobile government, which will further simplify the interaction between the citizen and the state. Mobile phones can be used to send messages, get information about taxes, fines and other state affairs. One feature of this phase is the electronic signature and its incorporation into a SIM card.
It sounds good, although the security issues surrounding a database filled with personal data are real, especially those regarding the electronic signature.
The mobile government is based off of the already established concept of the electronic government. The digital signature will be required to receive services. I believe that in general, electronic data and in particular, a digital signature is very securely protected. It is recommended by experts that the electronic signature is updated every year in order to thwart hackers. The longer the period of the signature’s validity, the greater the risk is.
In your opinion, how effective is e-government. Are concerns over its costs justified?
The UN e-government rating index illustrates the effectiveness and the fact that we are consistently bettering the relationship between the state and citizen. For example, Kazakhstan was ranked 38 in 2012’s ranking. By 2014, we rose by 10 points and reached the 28th place. Last year, we adopted a law creating a joint UN-Kazakhstan trust fund for technical cooperation, as part of which Astana hosted the third global forum on e-government from Oct. 6-8, 2014.
The previous two were held in South Korea, and lead to the development of an e-government. Advances in information technology and e-government platforms allow our country to carry out such a large and reputable event. By the time of its opening ceremony, we had already provided 700 services, including licensing. Issuing licenses is a very important aspect of e-government and has proved its effectiveness both in terms of attracting investment and the fight against corruption because it eliminates contact between officials and entrepreneurs. Today, 86 types of licenses and 435 permits are automated. More than 5,000 people visit the e-licensing page daily.
How has the attitude of state authorities towards the process of automation changed? Are people used to working in amore old fashioned manner.
Of course, times have changed. Like any other new innovation, automation, including the electronic signature, initially encountered some resistance and misunderstanding. Earlier, in order to receive public services, citizens had to bypass many cabinets and figuratively bow to officials. They often acted as they pleased and were slow in registering and finalising documents. Fortunately, these days and these ways are largely things of the past and we can confidently say that e-government works and the number of users rises every year.
The Internet is not yet in every village, particularly in remote areas and not all people do know how to use it.
Today, half of the rural population has internet access. Not everyone is able to connect because of financial status. Access centres in rural areas are seen as a solution to this problem. Perhaps they can be hosted at schools or local government offices, or at Kazpost offices. In cities, internet cafes can render these services. This is necessary, because without growth in the number of users, it is impossible to achieve the desired effect of a new public services system. In this regard, the Bridging the Digital Divide Programme helped increase the level of computer literacy. Awareness about opportunities, and most importantly, the convenience of a “virtual government” play a crucial role.
After the adoption of the relevant rules, how are you planning to manage their implementation?
We maintain close relationship with maslikhat (local council) deputies and with people who elected us to the Senate. Moreover, I want to note that at such meetings, a strong correlation between development in information technologies and society’s mood. Last year, my colleagues and I visited an e-government service centre in Astana and we were pleased by the level of service and lack of queues. This is an indication that the laws of the electronic document and informatisation work effectively. Great convenience is created in the Centres of providing public services for car owners.
Do you personally use e-government services?
Of course I do. I think all senators submit their annual income declarations electronically. We find this method very convenient. I now also pay for communal services via e-government.
As a specialist who has worked 40 years in telecommunications, could you tell me how do you assess the current state of the Internet in the country today? There are complaints about its speed and quality. Meanwhile, these factors are the main principles behind the increase in e-government users.
As an expert and user, I can say that the Internet, like all technologies, is developing rapidly. For example, if 10 years ago, tough questions on how to provide telephones to apartments in rural areas were common at meetings; today, the situation has changed, the nature of the requests regarding high-speed Internet, including 3G and 4G, EVDO technology and others. The Committee on Communications and Information is working hard at helping the villages arrive at the same level of connectivity found in the cities. Recently, a forum on elimination electronic inequality was held in Astana. At it, the national telecommunications operators discussed providing electronic services in villages. I know that there are plans to launch a project to provide high-speed Internet in rural areas next year and ensure up to 3 million villagers with 10 Mbit/s Internet. This is a large project, which is very important for the country.