5 Ways Technology is Improving Governance, Public Service Delivery in Developing Asia

Jakarta is using traffic apps to cut travel time and boost ridership on public transport.
Jakarta is using traffic apps to cut travel time and boost ridership on public transport.

By Abdul Abiad, Sameer Khatiwada

India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand are paving the way for technology to make governance more effective.

One aspect of new technology that receives considerably less attention is the transformative impact that it could have in improving the effectiveness of government.

According to the World Governance Indicators compiled by the World Bank, on a scale of 0 to 100 in terms of government effectiveness, for e.g., India scores 57, Indonesia 55, the Philippines 52, and Thailand 67. For perspective, advanced economies in Asia such as Japan and Singapore score 93 and 100, respectively.

New technologies hold great promise for improving government effectiveness, a multi-faceted concept that includes, among other things, control of corruption and efficient delivery of public goods such as education, health, social security, and transport. Here are five examples of how governments in developing Asia have begun harnessing technology for better government.

1. National ID systems to improve tax compliance and provision of public services.

Asia is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population with no official proof of identity. India’s Aadhaar digital ID program has now registered approximately 1.2 billion Indians covering 99% of the adult population, and it is being used to deliver government subsidies, benefits, and services.

 Success of India’s Aaadhar ID system has spurred interest across Asia

On the back of this national ID program, India is improving governance in other areas such as tax enforcement and compliance. In July 2017 it rolled out the Goods and Services Tax (GST), with all filings required to be done electronically through the GST Network, a web-based one-stop shop for all of India’s indirect tax requirements.

The GST Network is linked with the national ID system, which is in turn linked to individuals’ bank accounts; unlinked accounts are to be frozen by banks. The mandatory electronic tax filing minimizes taxpayers’ physical interaction with tax officials and has already broadened the tax base substantially – in just six months the Indian government added 3.4 million new indirect taxpayers to its rolls.

The success of India’s national ID system has spurred interest in putting in place similar systems in other countries in Asia. As of today, other large-scale digital ID initiatives in the region include Indonesia’s e-KTP card, Malaysia’s MyKad, and Pakistan’s NADRA system.

2. Reducing corruption in land management systems using blockchain.

According to a study by Transparency International, an estimated $700 million is being paid in bribes at land registration administrators across India. The government of Andhra Pradesh state is utilizing blockchain technology to address issues of fraud and corruption in the state by implementing a blockchain-based platform which would make land ownership data records encrypted and thus incorruptible and transparent.

 Crowdsourcing technology can improve quality of public education

3. Quality education and training: skills for the future.  

As highlighted by the 2018 Asian Development Outlook theme chapter How Technology Affects Jobs, quality education is key for preparing the workforce of the future. Workers with better foundational skills—which include not only basic reading, writing, numeracy but also social and emotional skills and digital literacy—are better placed to learn new skills and adapt to working with new technologies.

Quality formal education is the foundation of skills development. For instance, leveraging the widespread use of social media in the Philippines, the CheckMySchool (CMS) initiative is a community monitoring tool that uses crowdsourcing technology to improve the quality of public education. Developed in partnership with the Department of Education, CMS monitors and produces reports on various aspects of public education services, from specific government education programs to the quality of education infrastructure. Its use has resulted in faster response times from government on a range of issues, from the lack of textbooks to classroom repairs to misreported enrolment rates.

More generally, new technologies have the potential to transform public education through new approaches such as adaptive learning (powered by machine learning) and massive online open courses.

4. Better provision of healthcare services.

Thailand is pursuing ambitious plans in healthcare delivery, spurred by its desire to become Asia’s healthcare hub. The government created a Ministry for Digital Economy and Society in 2016 and has developed a National Digital Economy Masterplan with a four phase 20-year schedule.

 Jakarta deploying Trafi, Waze, Google Maps apps to help decongest city

The first masterplan (2017-2022) includes a digital ID system, with plans to establish government Big Data with a Data Analytics Centre, which “will create preparedness for utilizing artificial intelligence.” It will integrate the Thai Public Health System and Personal Health Records (PHR), allowing both professionals and patients to access information to monitor progress, seek advice and make doctor appointments online. The PHR system will issue smart health ID numbers to access healthcare services.

5. Transport and urban management.

We do not need to wait until automated vehicles to arrive in mega cities in developing Asia to see that new technology promises to transform public transportation and urban development.

A number of cities in Indonesia are actively using technology to improve services. The Jakarta Transport Authority collaborated with several application providers including Trafi, Waze, and Google Maps to evaluate alternative traffic schemes, eventually reducing travel times of Transjakarta buses by 20% and increasing ridership by 30%.

The Jakarta Smart City Unit has developed apps for public crime reporting, school placement, and traffic reporting, as well as a Citizen Relation Management platform to improve response times. And Surabaya has developed an e-Health service system that allows citizens to schedule appointments in public health centrers or government-owned hospitals without the need to stand in line.