Before coming to Viet Nam, I had to pick up my visa at the embassy in The Hague, and some papers had to be completed and the waiting started. One day, two days …, after the green light for the visa was sent to the embassy by letter, finally I was called to the embassy to pick up the visa, only to find out that the system had not registered this yet. With some hectic WhatsApp, Zalo and phone calls the problem was solved, but it surely struck me again how important it is for e-governance to connect paper-based systems and e-systems. Indeed, the proportion of online public services at level 4 (where transaction and service processing are both conducted online) in Viet Nam is still low, only reaching 30.86% on national average (Q.T.T. et al., 2021).
Last week I spoke at a National Conference on E-government in Viet Nam together with the Deputy Minister Nguyen Huy Dung of the Ministry of Information and Communications. I recounted on the significant e-government development in Viet Nam in recent years, reflected on the challenges lying ahead, and reassured the ambition of UNDP and the National Government to collaboratively strategize for developing e-government and e-commerce that could promote the digital economy, digital society and digital government as set in the National Digital Transformation Programme by 2025 with a vision towards 2030 .
E-Governance helps to simplify the processes and make access of government information easier. The other estimated benefits of e-governance include efficiency in services, improvement in services delivery, standardization of services, better accessibility of services, and more transparency and accountability. And most importantly, e-governance helps governments ensure business continuity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Waiting in line can be annoying. We would certainly get impatient to wait in line and fill in papers for hours while we are to become a parent or get our driver license, involving processes which could be done online. But inconvenience in administrative process could bring more than annoyance but frustrations, imagine being a single mother who must sacrifice her precious working and child-care hour, or being an elderly citizen traveling hours by bus just to submit application for a minor welfare subsidy.
Almost half of recorded public services being digitalized…
With strong political support, leadership and commitment, the e-government development in Viet Nam has been a remarkable journey. One year prior to the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Government issued Resolution #17 (in 2019), which for the first time formulated the country’s master plan on e-government development. The National Public Service Portal has been developed as a national single platform for citizens and businesses to access to public services. Almost 3,100 administrative procedures are in the process of being digitalized on the National Public Service Portal after two years of operation, accounting for nearly half of recorded public services.
… but processing of online dossiers accounted for only 6%
More is needed and can be done. Internet coverage is increasing but the supply and use of online services is lacking behind. According to government reports, last year processing of paper-based administrative procedures was above 93% while online dossiers accounted for only around 6% (T. Đ. N., 2021). This evidence coincides with UNDP PAPI findings (The Viet Nam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index), which shows that citizens are still yet to be convinced to use online services over paper-based procedures.
Efficiency and transparency will make big steps as the e-governance will expand and improve in Viet Nam. The more recent 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International ranked Viet Nam at 104 out of 180 countries , some steps ahead are possible.
For UNDP the digital transformation agenda is a strategic enabler of inclusive and sustainable development, only if the right variables are in place: inclusiveness, people-centered approaches, and good governance, particularly transparency, accountability, and integrity.
Four recommendations for advancing e-government
During this important national conference in early September 2021 on solutions to develop inclusive and digital government, UNDP offered four recommendations for advancing e-government and ensuring an inclusive and sustainable COVID-19 recovery.
- Firstly, moving towards a Digital Government will require the adoption of new ways of working across different government institutions at central and local level. It is critical to ensure integrated approaches in the design and provision of online public services as well as better inter-institutional coordination across different government units, at central and subnational levels.
- Secondly, it is important to integrate a citizen-centric approach that focuses on the end-user experiences and encourages citizen’s participation in e-government. Experiences around the world show how important is to observe online users in their own environment, understand how different users - including PWDs, ethnic minorities, women from rural areas, migrants, among others, obtain information about needed administrative procedures.
- Thirdly, the transition to a Digital Government in Viet Nam will require a rapid shift towards an open government approach that makes government accessible for everyone. Public officials do not have all the answers to solve today’s challenges and therefore partnering with citizens and businesses can help improve the effectiveness of online services and user’s experiences.
- And fourthly, and particularly important now as the government grapples with a new wave of coronavirus infections, the transition to electronic registration for social assistance programs based on unique national identification numbers rather than residence registration can and should be accelerated.
Committed leadership, large engagement and transparency promotion have proved to be consistent factors in driving lasting changes to solve Viet Nam’s development challenges.
UNDP will continue to collaborate with central and provincial governments, partners, local communities, and private sectors to identify and promote good initiatives in developing inclusive digital government to better serve people’s needs and building forward better after Covid-19.