Instead of giving out vague calls, the State should create impetus to promote digital transformation within the business community. For businesses to rapidly transform digitally, the State must lead the charge.
In fact, once they enjoy the benefits of digital transformation that public administrative services bring, businesses will look to transform themselves to get connected to the central system. There are specifically two areas that need digital transformation applications to ease the burden on State employees and make it less costly for citizens: health stations and People’s Committees at the ward and commune levels.
From the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year until now, convenient public services for people have been few. This is in addition to how complicated such services are: the registration of Covid cases and the issuance of a home quarantine completion certificate in HCMC so far are still very manual.
Concerning public administrative services, reform should begin with abolishing the procedure for authentication of various papers at the ward level. Nearly all Vietnamese citizens have now been issued personal identification numbers on the national database of residents run by the Ministry of Public Security, those who have not applied for a 12-digit ID card.
Two trips for a quarantine completion certificate
One may commiserate with a ward-level health station staff, where there are just a few of them to handle hundreds or even thousands of work items.
The paperwork related to Covid cases alone is enough to make them feel overloaded, with thousands of Covid cases needing a certificate of quarantine completion every day. Not only students but working adults too need such documents for procedures related to social insurance, whereas self-employed workers apply for this certificate in anticipation of benefits from the State if any.
On March 9, the HCMC Department of Health instructed Covid cases isolated at home to declare their information at https://tracuuf0.medinet.org.vn/khaibao.htm (1), but two days later, on March 11, the address was changed to https://khaibaof0.tphcm.gov.vn (2). In those two days, thousands of people already logged in and made declarations at the former address and received SMS messages from 1022 confirming the receipt of information, but their information was, in fact, not confirmed at all.
Since the day students in HCMC went back to school, the number of Covid-19 infections has skyrocketed. Currently, the management of infected students and close contacts remains quite troublesome for both the schools and the parents. Earlier this month, the HCMC Department of Education and Training required students in close contact with positive cases to have a certificate of quarantine completion granted by a ward-level health station to return to school. Such an unreasonable rule was later repealed.
The health, education and social insurance authorities should soon introduce a common system for Covid case management across the city. Such a common data system will enable schools to manage their students after quarantine without the need for each student to obtain an individual certificate. Similarly, for those infected cases who are working adults, data integration will make it easier for social insurance agencies to check records of sick leave due to Covid-19.
The issuance of certificates of quarantine completion in a digital fashion, in addition to its convenience, helps people and businesses cut the cost of travel and the State budget the cost of printing.
It’s time to abolish ward-level paper authentication
From this March, the Ministry of Public Security began to issue electronic identification accounts to citizens nationwide under the project of promoting the application of population data, identification and electronic authentication for national digital transformation in the 2022-2025 period, which got approved by the Prime Minister earlier this year (3).
Such accounts will gradually replace personal papers based on integrating and authenticating personal information and papers onto the national database on population so that only citizen ID cards are needed.
In the first stage, it will be done immediately with documents such as health insurance cards, driver’s licenses, professional certificates or credentials, vaccination certificates, healthcare and education information, ID cards of public officials and civil servants, etc.
Currently, all Vietnamese citizens have their own personal identification numbers pre-set on the national population database run by the Ministry of Public Security. For those who do not have a citizen ID card yet, the 12-digit number is also their citizen identification number. Therefore, the management of information related to a person, including those who are yet to get an ID card, becomes much more convenient and simpler than before.
With everyone with a citizen identification number and being granted an e-ID account, it is time to start abolishing the current authentication of documents at the ward level. This step will significantly reduce the work load on the personnel apparatus and give the ward-level People’s Committees more time for their major tasks.
The state of overload due to the authentication job at the ward-level authorities in HCMC has been brought up several times in the press. As per data recorded in 2019, the three leaders of the People’s Committee of Da Kao Ward, District 1, have to take turns to go on duty to sign documents, and once they do, they virtually have no time for anything else, said Sai Gon Giai Phong in an article. Up to 16,000 papers need authentication every month in this ward, i.e. 16,000 signatures and 16,000 stamps are required, which is quite a huge workload considering the scale of HCMC.
Another ward leader in HCMC also said they are fed up with putting their signature to authenticate copies since there are a lot of times when they have to do so from early morning until late evening, with the time spent on this job sometimes taking up more than seven hours in a working day.
Thus, the secondary job of authenticating papers often takes up more time than the main assignments of a ward leader. Not only the staff of State agencies, but people and businesses also spend a lot of time photocopying documents and traveling back and forth for authentication.
As per statistics, the number of copies in need of authentication across the country continued to grow rapidly between 2015 and 2018. In 2016, more than 97 million copies needed to be authenticated (up 18.5 million from 2015). The numbers were 116.8 million copies (up 19.7 million year-on-year) in 2017 and 63.6 million in the first half of 2018(4). Assuming the average cost of paper and ink for a copy is VND100, the printing of some 100 million copies per year will cost people as much as VND10 billion, in addition to the several thousand dong they have to pay State agencies each time for paper authentication according to regulations.
Thus, apart from reducing the work load for the ward- and commune-level authorities to give them more time to focus on their main job, the abolition of paper authentication will help people and businesses save a great deal of money and time on the road.
The job of checking and comparing citizens’ documents via centralized data systems that the State has completely built is another objective of digital transformation that needs to be prioritized for implementation right away at the ward level and the grassroots government level with the most direct contact with people and businesses.