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Digitalization of government offices and online services failing, says citizen

Sonam Deki

Online services are meant to provide easy and prompt solutions for both service providers and service seekers. However, Bhutan seems to lag behind and is not taking full leverage of technology.

Many frustrated citizens complain of inefficient and delayed services from the public service provider.

Apparently, digital inconvenience in this digitalized world is common in Bhutan and the general public is the one suffering the most. Specifically, the contact details provided on websites are mostly not updated.

An office worker tried connecting to the local leaders of Gasa regarding some official work. The fastest and the easiest way was to check their contact details on their official website or social media pages. To her dismay, she was annoyed calling the mentioned numbers only to find some outdated numbers and some answered by a student.

“I could have finished my work within half an hour only if I were able to contact the relevant service provider. It almost took a day by the time I could get their proper contact address,” she said.

Some private people expressed annoyance at receiving repeated calls from people seeking services. They claimed that such calls cause misunderstandings and disturbances particularly when they are busy with their personal work.

It has been three years for a private businessman who attended countless calls meant for the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA). He said, “I visited the trade office near the swimming pool to request them to remove my number from their google address. I even sought help from Bhutan telecom more than three to four times.”

But even after a year, his number was still reflected on MoEA’s google address. “I wonder what’s taking time to remove my number and update theirs. It irritates me when some angry public service seekers call my number and start scolding me out of the blue assuming that I work for MoEA,” he added.

He said that he wanted to change his number but all his important documents and contacts are connected to that number. “I request MoEA and the telecom to take prompt action,” he said.

Some regional office numbers were found out of service, some restricted and some wouldn’t respond no matter how many times one makes a call.

A parent rings the department of census and civil registrations more than a hundred times to inquire about the census registration process at around 2:30 pm on Thursday afternoon. He also looked for the contact number on their google address. He was baffled to find no one at the other end to respond to the call. He asked, “Why did they publish the contact number if they were not there to respond. Do they leave home before office hours?”

Office numbers were restricted mainly to avoid unnecessary calls. But in this digitalized world many people try to retrieve contact details online and most of the work is done online to save time. 

The public loses confidence in civil servants and other public service providers when they are not able to connect with the respective official during an emergency. Some government offices need to update their email addresses and contact numbers. “Sometimes I am dumbfounded not knowing how to go about some work when we cannot avail basic help over the phone or online,” said another concerned citizen.

Online service is any information and service platform provided by the internet. Through these services, people can access unlimited information as well as connect to the people. Online services can be more convenient for people living far away. Despite knowing the fact, most of the national and regional offices are failing to update their online service details.

Furthermore, there are many apps developed to provide online services in Bhutan but most of them are only there for namesake.

Some citizens are not happy with online notary eServices too. Notary services went online in 2017. One can procure a marriage certificate, translation of marriage certificate, marital status and many more with the G2C office. A private employee almost had a fist fight with the staff working in the judiciary when she was provided rude and delayed service.

The private employee shared that she applied online for marriage certificate translation as she will be leaving abroad for further studies with her husband. It took almost a month to get a call from the court. They were informed to come at 9:30 in the morning. She said,” I was expecting them to keep everything ready by the time we reached there. I thought we would only have to sign the documents but it wasn’t as expected.”

She narrated how the judiciary officials were having a relaxed time gossiping on trivial matters and joking around at their workplace whereas the service seekers’ lines were getting longer by the day.

“We applied online so that I will not have to put up a leave application at my office. But they made us do all the things that a visitor in person does and it took almost a day. when I questioned their service, the lady started yelling at us like they are doing some favour rather than taking it as their duty.” said the private employee.

She said that marriage registration is supposed to prepare and coordinate the application process, yet we find no difference between online registration and manual registration. 

She said, “Civil servants are paid tax money to work and therefore we have the right to ask for their service on time rather than taking it as a favour.”.

Some of the taxpayers also complain about online tax filing system RAMIS (Revenue Administration Management Information System). The app was down when the taxpayer tried filing tax online to avoid non-filing penalties. She said, ” The app didn’t respond and now we have to visit in person to file at the  Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) office. “Moreover, I have so little patience to wait in long queues and the time consumed there affects my business,” she added.

The lists of inefficient and complacent public service providers will stack up. Some regional offices in Paro, Zhemgang, Mongar, Lhuentse, Samtse and Dagana didn’t respond to the calls.

Whereas some office numbers in Trongsa, Thimphu, Tashigang, Tashiyangtse and Pemagatshel were found restricted.

And some numbers in Gasa, Tashigang, RRCO and MoEA are either taken by private users or don’t exist. 

Bhutan thrives to be a technologically driven nation. Capitalizing on emerging technologies lags behind. Although end-to-end integrated online facilities are expected to make it easier for the people to obtain services as equally as the government to over services, the reality seems far from it. It is important to tailor websites to the company’s needs and provide good opportunities for people to contact the office. Often people tend to gather contact details from their pages. “We want unwavering quality of data in web-based assistance,” said a concerned citizen.

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