On Business Forward’s 2019 anniversary, Egypt’s deputy minister of planning and administrative reform, Ghada Labib, attended the event to highlight some of her ministry’s efforts to bring the country into the 21st century.
She spoke extensively about the Egyptian government’s digitization efforts being led by the ministry of planning and administrative reform.
Labib emphasised how the government’s digitization efforts are intended to combat corruption, reduce crippling bureaucracy, and improve government efficiency and transparency. A significant part of these efforts are to digitize much of the country’s data in order to improve the government’s management of its own resources and the provision of services to citizens. “One of our most important projects is the digitization of databases. If databases are connected, this will help policy makers make more informed decisions,” she said.
The deputy minister talked up the importance of administrative reform and the crucial role it has to play in maintaining and continuing Egypt’s economic reform. She warned that without adequate administrative reform, the country’s progress could be derailed.
In the 21st century, data is very important. It’s even more important that data is constantly kept up to date in real time. In order to achieve good and efficient governance, governments need a live stream of data from to appropriately form and change policies and target them accurately. With real time databases of villages, towns, cities, and governorates, more effective planning decisions can be made.
A major part of these digitization efforts has been to create an automated registration service for recording births, deaths, and causes of deaths, Labib said. The current paper system is mired in time consuming and highly bureaucratic processes. Records are also very inconsistent across different government departments due to the lack of a unified system and human errors during the paper process. A digital database would bring the much-needed benefit of live updates to the government’s public records.
These are just some of the challenges necessary to overcome to create a unified and automated digital system, according to Labib. Other issues that her ministry has faced has been poor communication between different government agencies, computer illiteracy, and resistance to change.
In a video, Labib revealed some of the key efforts in getting passed these obstacles which included providing incentives and recognition to public employees to motivate them to accept these changes. With regards to improving communication between local and central government afencies, the ministry is helping in creating a private and secure network connected to a central database with the use of 3G technology.
A key area that has been targeted by the ministry’s digitization efforts is health. The new system is intended to register new births, diseases, deaths, and causes of death in 15 minutes. The purpose of this database is to create a health map of Egypt to identify trends specific to each governorate so policies can be more efficiently planned and targeted at those most in need of a specific service.
Labib cited a few examples of how such a database would be crucial for future planning. In governorates with high birth rates, the government can plan ahead with building a sufficient number of schools and classrooms. Mothers can also be automatically notified of when their children need to be vaccinated. With diseases, clinics, hospitals, and medical treatments can be concentrated in specific governorates which are in most need of them. Causes of death can also inform this. Non-disease related deaths can also provide the government with important indicators such as road-related deaths. In one of many ways how this system can also assist in managing the state’s finances, deaths being automatically reported to local post offices will also halt the subsidies to the deceased persons.
In a country with high levels of computer illiteracy where many still don’t own smartphones or have access to the internet, such efforts might bring up questions of how fair this is to the wider population. However, Labib reiterated the importance of digital inclusion to ensure these reform efforts are felt by everyone. “What’s new in the Egyptian state is the concept of digital inclusion…so that anyone who doesn’t have a smartphone can benefit from this digital transformation,” she said.
She mentioned the opening of what are being called “technology centers” across the entire country where citizens can go access the internet and these databases to record any changes to their status. “We’re developing technology centers so that, for example, an elderly citizen can benefit from digitalization, someone can issue a construction license, a commercial license.”
These technology centers will also act as a “one-stop shop to submit paperwork because all of that fights corruption,” Labib added.
Labib revealed that the governorate of Port Said has now already become digitzed. “Port Said is the first digital governorate” and had its entire health and life insurance system completely digitized. “Internet connectivity is now very important and we installed fibre optics in Port Said,” she added. Her ministry is now leading efforts to digitize the databases, records, and services of five other governorates. “This will of course [have a positive impact] economically, for business people, for citizens, and improve the services provided to them.”
Most importantly, the deputy minister insisted on the government’s need to know if citizens will be satisfied with these reforms. Digitization might sound and seem like a step in the right direction in principle, but if even after all is said and done, citizens aren’t happy and don’t feel the benefits of such reforms, these efforts will all be in vain.