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Tuesday, 30 October 2018 09:15
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Building e-government - the indispensable step of development in the process of administrative reform

(LLCT) - Over the last few decades, information technology (IT) has become an essential vehicle for enhancing the efficiency of state’s operation, the competitiveness of an economy, and the attractiveness of a nation. At present, the proponent of e-government has become an indispensable trend of all countries in the process of integration. In Vietnam, building e-government has become more urgent in the context of administrative reform. Thus, speeding up the process of building e-government towards a modern administration, meeting the country's development requirements, is an urgent task at present.

1. E-government - an important means to achieve the targets of public administration reform in Vietnam

At present, in the context of Doi Moi- reform, especially the renovation of the political system in our country, the public administrative reform is becoming more and more important. However, in order to be successful, building e-government should be considered as an urgent solution or an indispensable step. What is e-government? What it bring the changes and uses that are considered as “the nub” of the current administrative reform?

Thanks to its great benefits, e-government is a ‘hot’ topic, attracting interest of many people and there have been many definitions of it. To put it simply, e-government involves the government strongly applying the advances of information technology and communication to digitize working procedures and automate processes in order to improve efficiency, operation results, management work and provision of online public services for citizens and enterprises.

In order to take functions of management, governance, and public service, there are four main types of transactions in e-government: Government to citizens (G2C); Government to Business (G2B); Government to Government agencies (G2G); Government to Employees (G2E).

In e-government, providing e-services is a key task and it is operated on the following four levels. Level 1: The electronic portal provides full information on the service process. Level 2: The electronic portal allows users to download and print out forms and records and fill out the forms. Level 3: The electronic portal allows users to fill in forms online and return the file to those responsible for processing the application. Level 4: Service users can pay online and results can be released online or by mail. When online public services “run” effectively at level 3 and level 4, e-government has achieved high growth index. 

Although accelerating the application of information technology achievements to government activities is the main characteristic of e-government; e-government is not merely the “computerization” and “digitization” of its services. Building e-government is never a goal in itself but rather an attempt at reform. It is not possible to do it alone, but only to attach it to administrative reforms. In fact, it is impossible to build an e-government while maintaining a weak administration that does not operate in a scientific process. Therefore, before implementing the e-government development, the government must reorganize its operations, minimize administrative procedures and proceed in a scientific way. The government must also clearly define the functions and responsibilities of each department within the government system so that each department may implement their coded functions properly. In contrast, with the help of modern means and processes of information technology, e-government will help the administrative reform to reach the goal of strengthening government capacity and efficiency, thus bringing about people’s satisfaction, enhancing the transparency of the national administration, and streamlining the apparatus to reduce government spending and improve the public morality of civil servants. In other words, e-government offers the following benefits.

Firstly, e-government contributes to the promotion of the people’s right to ownership.

President Ho Chi Minh, the founder of the first democratic republic in Southeast Asia, asserted that in democracy “the people are the owners”. In the process of doi moi (national renewal), the Communist Party of Vietnam recognized democracy as a value to strive towards, this is a characteristic feature of socialism in Vietnam. From that awareness, simplification of administrative procedures, thereby ensuring the ownership of people, is the leading objective of the administrative reform in Vietnam. E-government is the effective means to achieve that goal.

First of all, e-government provides sufficient information for the people. Today, the demand for information to meet each person’s needs is very high. E-government with regularly updated news could help people access the volume of accurate information they need quickly, easily and frequently.

E-government also provides online public services that help people and businesses reduce waiting time and travel costs. With e-government, citizens and businesses can do their work through the portal anywhere, anytime without having to wait in government offices during office hours as before. This may reduce the cost and improve the quality of life of people and the “health” of business.

Under a democratic regime, the people have the right to control the state but in order to do that, the people must have complete, accurate and timely information. With the volume of information provided by e-government, people have better conditions to perform their monitoring and inspection functions; at the same time, they can participate in criticizing, formulating policies and denouncing wrong acts of the contingent of cadres and civil servants so that the Government can work better and better. In a nutshell, e-government has enhanced the ownership of the people, bringing the government closer to the people and bringing people closer to the government.

Secondly, e-government contributes to the transparency of the national administration.

Transparency and publicity are the characteristics of modern administration so administrative reform must be aimed at that goal. E-government with the provision of public services to the people, to businesses in terms of publicity and transparency will limit troubles, misdeeds of cadres and civil servants in the process of implementing functions. Transparency and openness in the management practices of e-government and services will contribute to check corruption, bureaucracy, monopoly, and laziness among civil servants. By accessing information and checking electronic data, the head of the public authority is able to know exactly who works quickly and conscientiously and who delays work and harasses people, and from there they can suggest appropriate solutions to enterprises. As simple as timekeeping, time monitoring of civil servants had to be done manually in the past, whereas nowadays modern electronic equipment connected to the Internet will transfer data to the server to serve the work of human resource management. This is the theoretic background. In fact, when Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc set the goal of building an “integrity” government, the need for transparency, publicity and cleanliness of the administration increased remarkably. The specific means to achieve that goal are to accelerate the operations of e-government.

Thirdly, e-government contributes to staff streamlining and governance capacity.

When he was alive, President Ho Chi Minh always said that the State apparatus was an effective tool to serve the people, not a burden to the people, so a lean administrative apparatus is always the target to go for. Resolution No. 01/NQ-CP on tasks and major solutions to implement the socio-economic development plan and state budget in 2018 signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on 1 January 2018 states that the target for 2018 is a 1.7% reduction for civil servants compared to 2015. One of the key measures to achieve that goal is to accelerate e-government development. If the traditional government needs more civil servants to receive and process dossiers and documents and then transfer them to higher levels, then in e-government, the people and enterprises will interact directly with the competent person. E-government with automatic programs has been “coded” to improve the processing speed of documents, and the data is calculated so that labor productivity will increase many times compared to the former manual way. E-government allows to conduct e-meetings, or online conferences, which helps to reduce paper consumption problems. With these benefits, the operating costs of the government will be significantly reduced, while the government’s management capacity will increase.

Fourthly, e-government lays out a foundation to reach the 4.0 revolution.  

The industrial revolution 4.0 develops on the basis of science and technology so that to approach the trend of industrial revolution 4.0, science and technology administrative activities must be used by public services of state agencies. In the revolutionary era of 4.0, the requirement is not only to build e-government, but also to have the most advanced technology, in order to find the simplest, most convenient and common way for people to access. The concept of “new generation of e-government” was born based on that concept.

In short, the emergence of e-government is a revolution in the process of developing public administration. It creates a modern, effective and transparent leadership style that enhances the level of satisfaction for people and businesses, and overcomes the inherent weaknesses of the traditional administrative system such as bureaucracy, corruption, and information covering. The operation of e-government will transform the administrative system into an administrative service; from the “asking-giving” relationship to modern service delivery. As an effective means to achieve the objectives set by the administrative reform, building e-government is an indispensable step in the process of administrative reform in Vietnam. In other words, if we do not speed up the process of e-government, the administrative reform in our country will not be successful.

2. Some solutions to speed up the process of building e-government in Vietnam today

Quick to realize the great strengths of the information technology revolution, the E-government Program in Vietnam has been implemented by the Vietnamese Government since 1996 with the initial name of “Computerization of state agencies activities.” By 2015, the program will be renamed “E-government Building”. Resolution No.36a/NQ-CP by the Government on e-government lays out the guideline of “applying information technology closely linked to administrative reform”. In that resolution, the Government has pointed out some of the following urgent tasks: to build up a transparent electronic information system linking electronic documents and electronic data from the Government to the provincial level, districts, and communes and vice versa; 100% public service will be provided online; to build a national public service gate at a unique address on the Internet, to train high-quality human resources who are appropriate to the functions of e-government.

The issue of e-government has become increasingly urgent. In May 2016, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Resolution No.35/NQ-CP with the guideline of “ensuring close and consistent bond between administrative reform and e-government and administrative control, under the direct leadership of the Prime Minister.”

Government resolutions have forced ministries, sectors and localities to strengthen IT application in management, especially in handling administrative files, budget management, taxation, treasury, customs, and social insurance. As a result, in 2016, based on three groups of criteria: telecommunications infrastructure, human resources and online public services, the United Nations assessed Vietnam’s e-government development index at 89/193 countries, of which, the public service index stood at 74/193. As of April 20, 2007, ministries, ministerial equivalent bodies, agencies attached to the Government, provinces and cities basically completed the interconnection of the document management software to the Government Office except for some specific agencies. However, the completion rate of tasks set out in Resolution 36a only reached 61.9%. IT application in agencies is still small, processing of work over the network is not big, and public services reaching level 3 and level 4 are few(1). It can be noticed that a true e-government is not available in Vietnam. The reasons for the above restrictions are as follows.

First and foremost, the information technology infrastructure in our country is poor and the funding for it is very limited. The consequences of Project 112 - the project “State administrative computerization” (2001-2005) have not been thoroughly resolved which created doubts about the effectiveness of IT investment. So far, the list of state budgets has not yet been set aside for the application of information technology. Only when the leadership cares and understands the power of e-government will they allocate funds for this work. Not only the budget constraint but also the distribution of money for building IT infrastructure in a “uniform layout” has resulted in many issues; competent organizations do not have enough resources to complete the work; in some other places, the IT project was “set up” and abandoned, lacking an operator or exploitation.

We do not have the human resources required for e-government. Experts on e-government in the world have pointed out that technology is the least important thing in e-government building; e-government is never a “battlefield” of technology; the mass investment in technology is just the final stage. To have a real e-government, the transfer of thinking, command, and delivery of ideas to serve people by civil servants at all levels is the most important(2).

In addition, the lack of determination of some leaders in the application of IT in management and procedures, not stable administrative procedures (as in the process of reform) is also a barrier to the construction of e-government in Vietnam. 

Under the pressure of the 4.0 industrial revolution and the important objectives of the administrative reform, the e-government development should be done continuously, drastically and synchronously with some main groups of solutions as follows.

- Group of cognitive solutions.

The Government should promote communication about the role of information technology in the operation of state agencies and the responsibility of each cadre and civil servant in serving the people in a modern manner. Officials and public servants at all levels, especially the heads of establishments, must have the political will to change the administration of “asking–giving” into the serving administration, considering the people as real partners and customers that must be served through the help of modern IT facilities.  

- Group of guidelines and policies solutions.

Legally, it is necessary to expeditiously complete the legal documents on electronic transactions, electronic services, electronic signatures and confidentiality; to quickly complete regulations on conditions and procedures for investment, procurement, service provision and IT products; to continue to improve tax incentives to encourage investors to develop the IT market in Vietnam.

Technically, it is necessary to focus on developing broadband infrastructure, boosting digital connections in the sectors and fields; expanding public services at level 3, level 4; to complete the construction and experimentation of the National Public Service Portal on the basis of general data. To do so, it is necessary to avoid information covering.   

Organizationally, it is necessary to improve the responsibility of the leader directing the implementation of the task of e-government construction. In fact, to have e-government, it is a must to have the “electronic leaders”. The top officer must be a person who understands the capabilities and needs of e-government and considers it a political task and tries to manage the work in the network environment at all times. This is not easy because many leaders are hesitant to change the old way of operating; for fear that transparency and simplicity in the network environment will diminish their power because of the profiteering opportunities and the increasing level of supervision of the people into the organization of their activities. If the leading cadres are not determined to approach the new and do not acknowledge this as a mandatory task, the development of e-government will be slow and difficult.

Regarding personal training, it is necessary to accelerate the preparation of high-quality human resources to meet the requirements of e-government. First and foremost, we are in need of a team of IT specialists to do programming, consulting, and technical adjustments for government agencies. This team of professionals must be competent with security and confidentiality, and must harmonize safety and utility as the two characteristics often in conflict. In order to prevent the risk of data loss, security measures must be taken at all access layers. Technology innovation is very fast so the completion of e-government will be continuous. Therefore, IT staff must constantly learn and innovate. 

For cadres and civil servants, the Government should regularly organize courses on modern public administration and IT so that they may have the relevant skills for working in e-government. After their training, they must commit to changing the way they work according to e-government standards.

For an e-government, there must be e-citizens. To achieve this, the State must have appropriate educational strategies to continuously improve people’s intellectual level and foster informatics knowledge for the people. Particularly, the popularization of informatics for people in remote and ethnic minority areas should be promoted so that they can exploit the services provided by e-government.

In addition, pilot work, review and replication of advanced models and learning experiences from countries that have been successful in building e-government are important solutions to be implemented. 

Speeding up the development of e-government to achieve a modern administration capable of meeting the needs of the people and the rapid and sustainable development requirements of the country is an urgent task for the Government of Vietnam. As the science and technology revolution continues to grow at great speed, both IT infrastructure and human knowledge of IT are at risk of falling behind. Therefore, the construction, operation and completion of e-government will be a continuous and non-stop process. Presently, the Government needs a great political will; experts must continuously create new things, people must actively support and cooperate for building e-governmentas it constitutesan indispensable step of the doi moi process in Vietnam.

Endnotes:

(1) Decree 36a has been implemented 61.9%, enternews.vn.

(2) Building e-government - technology is not all, quantrimang.com.

 

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Tran Thi Minh Tuyet

Academy of Journalism and Communication

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