Pace of public service changes post-covid19

In this file photo, people wait outside the Immigration Division at the Ministry of National Security on Richmond St, Port of Spain. The Government has signaled its intention to improve the digital delivery of public services. - SUREASH CHOLAI
In this file photo, people wait outside the Immigration Division at the Ministry of National Security on Richmond St, Port of Spain. The Government has signaled its intention to improve the digital delivery of public services. - SUREASH CHOLAI

The covid19 virus reportedly appeared in Wuhan at the end of 2019. Then, in March 2020, WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus confirmed that the covid19 outbreak was a pandemic. Since then, we have been forced to make necessary adjustments.

Sometime during our first wave, the Prime Minister talked about the Estonia e-identity model, I subsequently did some research into the model and wrote “Digitally living” because I too was impressed with its advanced adoption and use of technology making day-to-day public service deliveries easier and convenient.

I am therefore convinced that it is this Government’s desire to improve the delivery of our public services to its citizens. However, while I have been noticing strides with its intention, I, like many others, find the user experience is woefully low and adaptations are happening at a slow pace. Users are still losing too much time trying to access and use the services.

There are some public services which have adapted and implemented user-friendly online systems and reliable delivery methods.

The births and deaths registry is one such section which seems to be working well. Applicants can process requests smoothly and conveniently online and receive certificates via registered mail. Requests can be made simply by filling out an online form, and upload supporting electronic IDs etc, and payments are made electronically.

Applicants receive an immediate e-mail confirmation and next day communication update on the process, including a tracking number. TTPost delivers within days. They even call prior to arrange delivery. This system should be mirrored across all departments.

The other sector that seems to be working well is the Intellectual Property Office, which also falls under the Ministry of Legal Affairs. I recently had my office register trademarks and received positive feedback about the process and service from the user. She had some issues uploading documents and when she contacted the office, she found the representative was very helpful and ensured that the transaction was completed with the least amount of hassle.

My accountant recently attempted to book an application appointment online with the San Fernando office of the Companies Registry. However, there are no dates available on the calendar in the month of November. October had no available dates and November showed “not yet available", which I found odd, especially since the collection side of the bookings is open for November and December.

So, essentially, up to the time of writing, you could not use the online calendar to book an application appointment because either no one updated it or they are backlogged and is using the blocks to control applications. But whatever the reason, it is not good enough and the issues have to be looked at and worked out.

You might ask, why are we not able to process the entire application online? Well, you can only do so if you have a subscription account, which costs $500. It therefore makes no sense to take out a $500 subscription to file (in our case) three annual returns at $40 each, totalling $120.

Given that both departments fall under the same ministry and under the same Registrar General Department, then why isn’t the Companies Registry section able to offer the same commendable service as the online applications for births, deaths and marriage certificates?

Also, my accountant has had difficulties conducting business with the National Insurance Board and Board of Inland Revenue to make BIR and NIS payments and request clearances. There is also some confusion with some online items, and it is very difficult to get access to a representative to get help. Changes and additions to online areas that might bring confusion to users, from my experience, are best explained by adding demo videos and FAQs to the website.

One observation of the system failings is that it is very difficult to get someone on the telephone to answer a query or respond via e-mail in some of the public service delivery departments. It therefore seems easier to go in and address one’s concern directly, my accountant advised.

I am still very hopeful, as we have a Ministry of Public Administration and Digital Transformation (MPA). According a published statement of 2020, the MPA strategic plan for 2018-2020 is to enhance: the ministry’s capacity; become client-centric; and improve public-service architecture and thus delivery of public services, with a view of becoming a regional leader. The ministry’s vision is to be the regional leader in public service transformation and use of ICT for development that contributes to the well-being of citizens.

Its modernisation and service improvement division develops, establishes, and operates whole-of-government solutions. It also established a national information and communication technology division which provides oversight for the growth and development of the ICT sector, the advancement of the knowledge sector…and the standardisation of e-services across the public service.

Our private establishments are adapting at a faster pace and adding more services online. With the resources of the public service, we should hope that they will make more improvements at a faster pace and provide quality service delivery to their publics.

One of our downfalls in doing business here is the difficulty in processing what should be simple transactions. The need for in-person transaction should be lessened until it eventually becomes non-existent, as we seek to transform our country. This will without a doubt improve our productivity, as we would be able to do so much more in less time.


"Pace of public service changes post-covid19"

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