HomeInterviewCOVID-19 a catalyst for government-sector reform

COVID-19 a catalyst for government-sector reform

Eyes opened to the need to transform paper-heavy government to digital operations

The massive disruption resulting from the COVID-19 crisis has pointed to the significance of digital technology, which made it possible for some state agencies in Thailand to continue to serve people without interruption, even during the partial nationwide lockdowns.

However, more still needs to be done to transform the country’s bureaucracy into a fully digital government. This is the task of the Digital Government Development Agency (DGA), which is now pointing to the pandemic as a prime example of the advantages to be found when it achieves its purpose. The agency’s mission is to digitize the workings of the Thai government by setting goals and standards, establishing best practices, and training government employees.

The agency’s President and Chief Executive. Dr. Supot Tiarawut, told The Story Thailand that, despite some digitally based government functions operating normally, the pandemic has shown that, under circumstances of considerable disruption, the government sector is unable to perform at full capacity. This is partly because there is still no completely functioning digital system. The DGA, he said, is now ready to facilitate the public sector’s reform to become a fully digital government

The DGA has discussed with the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) and the Public Sector Development Commission the issuance of a new regulation to allow use of electronic mail in the public sector’s document system. 

Supot said the Thai bureaucracy still relies heavily on personnel and paper documents. When lockdowns occur, the bureaucratic system cannot function at full capacity because all of the documents are stored in government offices. Many officials still have to work at state agencies to provide services to the public, while others are able to work from home.

COVID-19: a lesson for public-sector reform

Supot said the COVID-19 crisis has offered some important lessons. For example, the State Audit Office has been able to operate completely online, proving that state officials are capable of changing their mindset, and that things regarded as unfeasible in the past are now not only achievable, but can also become routine.

Digital skills are necessary and inevitable, he said. Executives see the importance of digitizing their agencies, and employees must learn how to use online-meeting applications on all of the platforms available. The DGA has a policy requiring all government agency meetings to have online links. 

Moreover, a government regulation has been amended to remove a requirement that at least one-third of all participants must be in attendance to constitute a meeting quorum.

Supot also emphasized a need to develop Thai technologies. He said confidential meetings will be required to use locally developed systems only, and this provides a good opportunity for local developers to design technologies specifically for public-sector online meetings.

The DGA also plays a role in setting up digital platforms for the public sector. Just recently, a digital-identification system made it possible for the government to provide online services to people who did not have to appear in person for identification.

The agency discusses adjustments to existing regulations and processes with various state agencies in order to facilitate online transactions. But looming importantly is the need to improve the personal skills of government employees.

“What we are doing next involves an online-learning platform, so that people can learn about new technologies. Among the subjects are the supervision of data and the Personal Data Protection Act,” he said.

In Supot’s reckoning, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the government sector’s lack of preparedness in many areas. For instance, online meetings have suffered signal interruptions from time to time. Now, services have been improved with collaboration from state agencies like TOT and CAT.

State agencies have adopted robotic process automation (RPA) systems to facilitate the implementation of their services. Chat bots have also been used.

Relevant regulations are being amended and procedures adjusted to allow these digitization processes. Among them are regulations involving disclosure and linkage of data. For example, state agencies are required to comply with particular legislation that limits and prevents the disclosure of data, so there is a need to rectify these restrictions.

“We have found that only about 10 per cent of some 3,000 government services have been digitized. One-hundred per cent digitization takes a long time, but most people are placing their hope in this occuring. We have a roadmap, to be implemented in three years, for digitizing most of the existing government services and transactions,” he said.

Encouraging the private and public sectors to work together

Supot said the DGA provides support not only to the public sector, but also to the private sector. He listed three projects designed specifically for the private sector.

  1. Collaboration with the Public Sector Development Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation to digitize data from different state agencies. New graduates will be hired for between six months and one year to key data into the system. A budget has been requested for the project, and the DGA will work with any state agency asking for data digitization.
  2. Formation of a Digital Government Technology and Innovation Center (DGTI). In collaboration with Burapha Univeersity, the DGA will pair state agencies that are in need of technologies with start-ups or small- and medium-sized enterprises with IT or tech-related projects. The goal is to find solutions for the agencies and fulfill the public-sector’s needs. There is also a plan to later extend this form of collaboration to cover universities in the North, Northeast and South.
  3. The Online Learning Platform is being developed for state agencies. In collaboration with universities, content related to digital matters will be provided on this online platform so that public-sector personnel will be able to learn. Private enterprises with platforms or solutions involving online learning are also eligible to take part in this project. 

“We are playing the role of driving development of a digital government by successfully encouraging state agencies to digitize their services. We offer advice and help with project management,” Supot said. 

Agencies that are well prepared may not need much assistance from the DGA, he said, but the agency often helps them in setting standards to ensure successful connections and data exchanges. 

For agencies that require assistance, the DGA offers advice and works with them closely to determine areas of change and to set goals.

“All of these are like house building, to bring the country into Thailand 4.0,” Supot said. 



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