By Natalya Datskevych
Historically, getting official paperwork done in Ukraine — or anywhere -- doesn’t happen fast. Kyiv city streets are dotted with signs for public notaries but government procedures remain paperbound and bureaucratic.
But times are changing. Europe, the US and Ukraine civil society press the government here to reform. With rising pressure for efficiency and transparency, paperbound bureaucracy increasingly looks very 20th century. Instead politicians, NGO workers and enterprising techies are developing e-government platforms to fight corruption and make government more accessible to citizens.
State Services Move Online
The aim of creating online e-government is not just greater ease, says Alex Vyskub, who works in the State Agency for Electronic Government of Ukraine. Minimizing face-to-face interactions can make corruption and passing bribes a lot more difficult.
Developing platforms and legislation for online governance is the aim of the agency where Vyskub works, created in 2014 in the aftermath of the Euromaidan revolution. Supervised by experts from Estonia, the agency aims to put 100 top-priority government services online by the end of this year. Half will be designed for businesses.
The platform is copied from Estonia’s X-Road. A fellow former Soviet republic, Estonia now is recognized worldwide as a successful pioneer in e-government. In Ukraine, the platform is called ‘Trembita” – after the traditional mountain horn of the Carpathians. Trembita puts key services online. It also provides an online way for government agencies to interact and transparently request information from each other.
Trembita accomplishments include launching online business registration, and making online platforms for social services like subsidies for children.By 2020, the platform will launch an online licensing system for businesses selling alcohol and tobacco. “Of all 100 key services, about 35 to 40 percent [of those supporting businesses] are already operating,” Vyskub says.
Transparency Helps Businesses
To cut corruption in Ukraine, officials need to clean up how businesses interact with government. Vyskub’s agency has launched several initiatives.One deals with commercial real estate. Previously, businesses had to visit local offices to register ownership of buildings. Now owners of small and medium-sized businesses have to register with an online database if they want to obtain property rights.
This database, Gazko, keeps the businesses’ documents and ensures their building is legal and properly taxed. “This liquidated a huge corruption hole in the country,” asserts Vyskub. A second initiative involves land registry. In earlier decades, Ukrainians visited local officials to register ownership of land plots, or to get a green light for development.
Now, applications for land registry are filed into a network where the officials who process them are randomly selected from all over the country.“This allows us to break off connections between local government officials and the licensee approaching them,” says Vyskub.
Overall, Vyskubsees progress, and improved ease of doing business.These e-government steps, he says, “not only save time and resources for business, but also eliminate schemes for abuse that existed because of excessive bureaucracy.”
Procurement: Online and Transparent
Trembita’s work focuses mostly on small businesses. More of interest to medium and big businesses, Ukraine already developed an online platform to manage government auctions and tenders—with transparency.Called ProZorro, it was founded in 2015. In 2016, it won the international Open Government Award.By cutting collusion on bids, it already is saving taxpayers millions of dollars on state procurement.
Despite these steps forward, large swathes of the Ukrainian government’s interactions with the private sector remain tangled in paper and prone to corruption.
One big obstacle: despite government intentions to take procedures online, much of Ukraine’s legislation doesn’t allow internet forms to replace physical documents. “Legal tech has a high potential for the Ukrainian market,” says Mykhalo Honcharuk, head of a law firm here. “But it’s difficult to implement if a government regulation doesn’t allow it.”
This is slowly changing, he adds. For example, a law passed in December allows certain claims to be prepared for Ukrainian courts online.“It’s a new law, and we don’t know how it will work,” he said. It will take one year to test.”
But, looking to the future, online transparency is the way this tech savvy nation will go, he says.“Tech helps to make government procedures more transparent. It protects private property, and it allows people to interact with the government without bribes.”
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Posted April 25, 2018.
Aisha Down contributed to this story.