E-government has been discussed for 10 years in Tajikistan. However, despite the growing number of Internet users, the e-government has not become a part of citizens’ daily lives.
After establishment of independence in Tajikistan, the telecommunications infrastructure inherited from the times of the former Soviet Union was almost completely destroyed; the remaining equipment exhausted its resources. Active development of the telecommunications market and advanced technologies such as Internet, IP-telephony and mobile cellular communications of GSM standard started in Tajikistan in 1998[i].
In the early 2010s, Tajikistan was a leader in Internet development throughout Central Asia. In 2005, Tajikistan was the first country in the world to successfully test 3G mobile communications on a massive scale. At the same time, literally in two or three years, the number of subscribers increased to 3 million, while in 2000, there were no more than 3,000[ii]. After 13 years, not district region of the republic is covered with the 4G communication standard[iii].
Thus, the e-government policy was launched in the context of a transition country, characterized by an insufficient information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, low computer literacy and limited access to the Internet.
Over time, with consideration of the successful e-government practices of advanced countries, a number of conceptual and program documents were developed and adopted; the main of these is the “Concept for the Establishment of the Electronic Government in the Republic of Tajikistan (2012-2020)” approved as the government decree of the Republic of Tajikistan of December 30, 2011, No. 643. Later, a Program for the Further Implementation of Electronic Government was introduced.
According to the Concept mentioned above, the e-government implementation policy in the country includes three key stages[iv]:
All government bodies:
- create local and sectoral, departmental computer networks;
- computerization programs for ICT implementation;
- create own websites (pages);
- develop a draft government portal;
- widely and effectively use existing information technology networks between government bodies;
- conduct activities to ensure access to electronic services;
- complete creation of existing interdepartmental components of electronic government;
A Unified network of information technologies to be introduced, combining 48 Ministries and Departments of the Republic of Tajikistan.
Second stage plans:
- improvement of legal, organizational and technical conditions for the creation of electronic government;
- the formation of mechanisms of two- and multilateral communication for the introduction of a single electronic document management system;
- expansion of departmental and interdepartmental electronic information resources;
- elimination of digital gap in the republic;
- creation of interdepartmental electronic government systems in the executive bodies’ structure.
The third stage of e-government development provides:
- automation of providing public services to the population and organizations, as well as receiving services from organizations for state needs;
- development of e-government services such as a government portal and e-government gateway;
- improving the ICT knowledge level;
- creation of a national identification system;
- implementation of transactional services (payments and other actions using electronic digital signature);
- implementation of telemedicine, distant educational projects (training) and other activities.
Most of the tasks outlined in the first stage of this Concept were performed prior to the mentioned period, except “developing a draft government portal”. This is a very significant point in the process of Concept implementation. Previously, such draft was created as hukumat.tj, but later it was deleted for unknown reasons. The importance of the government portal is that it creates opportunities for citizens across the country to interact with government bodies. Currently, in other Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan (http://egov.kz/cms/ru), Uzbekistan (https://www.gov.uz) and Kyrgyzstan (http://www.gov.kg/?lang=ru), there are government portals that provide close public ties.
Most of the tasks outlined in the second and third stages of the Concept remain unresolved. These include the creation of a single electronic document management system, the elimination of digital gap in the republic, creation of interdepartmental electronic government systems, implementation of telemedicine and distant educational projects.
Local Executive Bodies’ Websites Quality
E-government’s activity, as a rule, can be divided into three areas of tasks, which reflect the type of relations between the entities: 1) between public services and the population, citizens; 2) between different branches of government and levels of government; 3) between the state and business.
These three types of relations are known as the phases of government transformation. Moreover, the third type (G2C) plays a major role in the process of transformation and democratization of society. In the Republic of Tajikistan, these three types of relations begin to develop to a certain extent. However, these types of (electronic) relations do not work properly in the entire power structure. Only certain state bodies and institutions provide services to citizens through electronic networks.
Today, government agencies provide a number of specific electronic services for citizens within e-government framework. In particular, electronic services are rapidly developing at the Tax Committee, the Ministry of Finance, and the Custom Service. However, the “Feedback” or the “Guestbook” pages on the websites of state authorities and local self-government bodies still do not work or remain inactive, and the websites carry out only an information function.
In general, it can be observed that the principle of social orientation is not a priority when creating and developing executive bodies’ websites. In other words, existing websites are focused on the state, not society.
The websites of local executive bodies in Sughd and Khatlon regions are the most developed and active. However, the informational content of most of these websites is poor. In other regions, for example, in Regions of Republican Subordination and GBAO, the websites of most local executive bodies are poor in terms of design and professional performance. The administration of the Murghab district has not yet registered its website.
Today, when generalizing midterm results, it is possible to say that the basic requirements of the first stage of the Concept are not fully met. At the first stage, the “Concept for the Establishment of the Electronic Government in the Republic of Tajikistan (2012-2020)” intended all government bodies to create own websites (pages).
In general, the common problem that is observed on almost all websites is the absence of Russian and English versions. In the light of the existing problems, the periodic analysis of the websites of the executive bodies of cities and regions of Tajikistan is of particular interest. On the basis of such analysis it would be possible to assess e-government development level throughout the country.
What was done?
For e-government development in the country, the following projects were implemented[v]:
- The Single State Electronic Registry (E-Registry) for business licenses and permits (ijozat.tj) was created. It contains complete and reliable information on the process of obtaining the business licenses and permits required for carrying out certain types of business activities in the Republic of Tajikistan;
- A system for registration of legal entities and individual entrepreneurs, The Single Window Center, is operated by the Customs Service of the Republic of Tajikistan;
- An electronic tax declaration system has been introduced; it allows taxpayers to simplify the reporting process and fully automate the process of submitting the tax statements to tax authorities (andoz.tj, mbma.tj);
- The Executive Body of State Authority in Dushanbe and the Public Fund “Civil Internet Policy Initiative – CIPI” jointly implemented the project “Mo Metavonem!” The website (mometavonem.tj) of this project is designed as an electronic reception for citizens’ appeals regarding the quality of work of the municipal services;
- The project “National vacancy database” (kor.tj) was implemented by the State Agency on Social Protection, Employment and Migration of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population of the Republic of Tajikistan;
- The computerization program for primary and secondary schools, the National Testing Center, etc. were introduced;
Assessment of E-Government Development Indicators in Tajikistan
Various organizations and consulting companies are actively conducting research on e-government development of countries. To assess e-government development indicators in Tajikistan, we address the results of the research by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which periodically, every two to three years, demonstrates the level of countries’ readiness to introduce and use electronic public services[vi]. E-government development index is calculated for 193 countries. This, in turn, helps to compare the countries’ achievements in ICT development, and serves as a tool for comparative analysis at the regional and national levels.
The index consists of three indices: Online Service Index, Telecommunications Infrastructure Index, and Human Capital Index. The overall result of the reports presented by international organizations is that, despite the positive signs of the ICT infrastructure development, the readiness of the Republic of Tajikistan to implement e-government effectively remains very low.
The index demonstrates that during the period from 2004 to 2012, there has been a positive trend in e-government development. Since 2012, the index of e-government development in Tajikistan has been declining; the country is placed among the countries with the average level of e-government development (countries with indices between 0.25 and 0.5).
Factors Restraining E-Government Development in the Country
Tajikistan, as a country with a transition economy, is facing multiple challenges in the process of successful e-government implementation. The main obstacles are the following:
Geographical location. There are significant differences in the availability and reliability of using the Internet, the diverse socio-economic and technological settings between large cities and rural areas. Given the imbalance of the population throughout the country, the low level of computer literacy and limited access to the Internet, customer service via physical (customer service centers) rather than online communication remains a vital access point for public services for citizens, especially in the case of vulnerable groups and rural residents.
Monitoring and evaluation. One of the problems the government faces is the lack of cost-benefit analysis and effectiveness evaluation of ongoing e-government projects. Various sources, mainly provided by international organizations, draw different conclusions about Tajikistan’s progress in e-government development. However, the results of the studies cannot always be considered objective.
At this stage, the evaluation of e-government projects is carried out by the Information Technical Centre of the administration of the President of Tajikistan (as a coordinating body) at the request of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, and not on permanent basis.
It is necessary to monitor and evaluate e-government in order to understand the users’ demand and assess the effectiveness of e-government projects in achieving their goals. Evaluation of the effectiveness of e-government projects is necessary to justify the new projects, costs, initiatives and the allocation of additional funds.
Absence of customer-oriented approach. Although customer-oriented approach has become a popular slogan in key and official documents, government agencies that provide certain services often do not realize what e-service users want. There is no consultation with citizens and enterprises to identify their requests, preferences regarding the structure and content of electronic services.
Development of the customer orientation requires close collaboration between government and citizens, as well as among government service providers. This requires significant cultural changes within government. It is the development of the information culture of society, which over time will become an important factor in the development of each individual and an element of the effective e-government implementation.
Digital gap. The measures taken by the government to narrow the digital gap in Tajikistan resulted in an increasing number of citizens who have improved their computer literacy and have better access to the Internet. Nevertheless, a large number of citizens from rural regions and low-income families still do not have access to electronic services. In this regard, the digital gap is an important barrier for e-government implementation, when people with low computer literacy and limited access to the Internet cannot access online services.
Low speed and quality of the Internet. The Internet is expanding the forms and methods of citizens’ political participation in governance, increases their political activity; it promotes direct interaction of citizens and authorities; creates conditions for the free information dissemination, monitoring of the authorities’ activities by civil society actors, the public and, in general, it forms an integrated structure of e-government. In this regard, the speed and quality of the Internet, as well as the rate of population’s access to the Internet play an important role in e-government development.
Analysis shows that the Internet in Tajikistan is one of the most expensive in the world. A World Bank report “Digital Dividends” states that only 17% of population use the Internet on any device in Tajikistan, compared with 28% in Kyrgyzstan, 44% in Uzbekistan and 55% in Kazakhstan. One of the reasons for the high costs of the Internet is that providers buy an Internet channel at a high cost from foreign partners and cannot sell it at a lower price to the public. Another reason affecting the cost of the Internet is the introduction of a 5% excise tax on the Internet[vii]. All these factors restrict further e-government and digital development in the country. To overcome these obstacles, practical solutions are required. They should be aimed at reducing the cost of Internet traffic and improving online education.
It should be noted that a number of factors that create obstacles for e-government implementation in Tajikistan are to some extent common for many developing countries[viii].
Findings and Conclusions
In our opinion, the solution of existing problems should be carried out in the framework of the following areas and mechanisms for e-government implementation:
First, strengthening institutional capacity to manage and monitor the effective implementation of the e-government project. It is important to create organizational and managerial structures for effective coordination and integration of efforts aimed at achieving the best political results in e-government sphere.
Second, enshrining a national approach to risk management of digital security and privacy issues. Clear economic justifications for using resources to achieve goals should be introduced and results should be monitored. Appropriate capabilities must be created, including the legal and regulatory framework, to not only take advantage of the new e-government capabilities, but also to moderate the risks associated with this (such as security and privacy).
Third, revision of the regulatory framework, which will allow the use of digital opportunities.
Fourth, creation of the clear business cases to support financing and targeted implementation of projects in the field of digital technologies by:
– formulating a value proposition for all projects above a certain budget threshold, determining the expected political, social and economic benefits, justifying public investment and improving project management;
– taking measures to eliminate the existing digital gap (that is, the fact that society can be divided into citizens who have and citizens who do not have access to electronic technologies and cannot use them);
– resolving citizens’ rights issues, organizing and distributing resources, adopting new rules and standards, using communication tools and developing institutional capacity to facilitate the participation of all age groups and segments of the population, in particular, by clarifying formal responsibilities and procedures.
Fifth, promotion of the involvement and participation of state, private and public organizations in policy development and the public electronic services provision. This includes the business models implication to motivate the actors to participate in adjusting demand and supply and creating a framework for cooperation, both in the public sector and for external actors.
In general, the organization and functioning of e-government in the future will require the fulfillment of a number of tasks. First, it is improving standards, promoting the project in the media and educational institutions, introducing interactive services, solving the technical issues, etc.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project
[i] Strategy “ICT for development of the Republic of Tajikistan”. Nov 5, 2003, No. 1174.
[iv] “Concept for the Establishment of the Electronic Government in the Republic of Tajikistan (2012-2020)”. Dec 30, 2011, No. 643.
[v] 2018 UN EGovernment Survey. New York, 2018. publicadministration.un.org
[vi] Press review. Period: May-June, 2017. Bureau of Human Rights and Rule of Law. https://www.bhr.tj/sites/default/files/articles/2018-02/obzor-smi-mai-iul-2017.pdf
[viii] Electronic Government of Tajikistan.
Chief Specialist at the Strategic Research Center Under the President of Tajikistan. Participant of CABAR.asia School of Analytics (Dushanbe)