Cyprus Mail
Guest Columnist

Time to reboot electronic government

By Chrys Zampas

Let’s start with the definition of eGov (electronic government), which includes all the digital interactions between a government and a citizen or a company. These interactions can happen at all levels, from interacting with your local council to sending a message to the president.

In other words, people can interact with their government using their computer or their smartphone/tablet (next to their swimming pool) and not standing in line.

The main disadvantages of eGov are cost, inaccessibility (someone needs internet access to interact) and fear of surveillance. However the advantages clearly surpass the disadvantages. Increased speed, efficiency and convenience can only make citizens happier and save them lots of time. The advantages will become clearer in the following examples.

Estonia vs Cyprus
Estonia, or e-stonia as people like to call it, is one of the leading countries in eGov. The policy documents concerning eGov were approved in 1998 and launched in 2000. In comparison internet was introduced in Cyprus in 1995.

EGov in Estonia is above the EU average with 51 per cent of the public using eGov services.

Electronic government in Cyprus is below the EU average. Only 19 per cent of citizens submitted forms via eGov in 2014 compared to 32 per cent of Estonians. Furthermore, Cyprus government doesn’t have a clear homepage. Cyprus.gov.cy is a good attempt, but is chaotic and difficult to use. Cyprus has a long way to go to reach Estonia’s rankings.

Let’s look some real example on how Cyprus compares to Estonia.

Following are some real cases on how eGov is used in Estonia and how it is used (or not used) in Cyprus. These examples clearly show the gap between Estonia and Cyprus.

Income Tax
Have you ever stand in line to pay your taxes? Did you know that there is an online service called TAXISnet? However in order for someone to use this online service, they need to submit in person an application! Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of doing something online?

In contrast, Estonian people and businesses can fill in a simple online form and then fill in their details. The whole process takes an average of five minutes and is used by 90 per cent of the people. Did I mention that has been available since 2000?

Registration of a new company
In Cyprus there are two ways to register a company.

The expensive one: You find a lawyer or an accountant that has a company already registered, you pay them a decent amount and you get a new company in a few days.

The slow one: You do the whole registration yourself and it takes some time. There is also a website for submitting online documents needed to register a company. But guess what, it only works in certain versions of Internet Explorer and is only available in Greek!

In Estonia a website in Estonian and English has an online form that can be filled in a few minutes and the approval usually takes 1-2 days. The online method is used by 98 per cent of all company submissions.

 eHealth
Let’s start with Cyprus. Mr Panikos wakes up at 6 o’clock in the morning, stands in line in the hospital to register for a couple of hours, waits 2-3 hours for the doctor to show up, if he is lucky his paper medical envelope will arrive at the doctor’s office (and not get lost somewhere), spends some time there with the doctor and finally stands in another line in the hospital’s pharmacy to get his medicine. If he is lucky he is home just in time for lunch.

In Estonia all people book their appointments online and don’t spend any time standing in queues. They have digital health records and assign access rights to their practitioners. In other words, they can’t edit their digital health records (they are not doctors) but they decide who will change them and when. So, they actually go to the hospital only to visit their doctors or get their medicine.

Estonia is clearly way ahead from Cyprus. Their eGov services began in 2000 and now they have reached a mature stage.

Can Cyprus reach the same level? Yes, but first it needs to address some issues. And I am not talking about money, because money is not the solution. The failed example of the eHealth project in USA (google “obamacare failure” for more) shows that just pouring money into a project won’t solve everything.

Before deciding to go ahead with eGov in Cyprus we need to define the processes and educate all stakeholders including civil servants and the people of Cyprus that will use it.

Internet access is not essential for eGov. An ambitious project of the government aims to have digital ambassadors in Cyprus villages. So in the future, Mr Panikos will be sitting at his usual coffee shop, enjoying his coffee while his digital ambassador is booking his next doctor’s appointment and ordering a new ID because Mrs Panikou destroyed his old ID while washing his trousers.

Lastly, the Cyprus government needs to adopt an open source model like Estonia. Closed source systems rely on the companies they created them to be maintained, while open source systems are free from specific vendors. They tend to be more secure, easier to be customised and allow faster deployment.

I am sure that Estonia is ready to help Cyprus adopt eGov. Is Cyprus ready to accept the help?

Chrys Zampas is an online entrepreneur that is hoping for a better future

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