Digital Way Forward to Government Processes


Living in Brunei, it’s easy to forget the unlikely sweet spot we occupy between tradition and modernisation.

It’s rare, in a rapidly advancing world, to find a country like ours that embraces new technology, wealth creation, development and all the trappings, while holding firmly onto our natural, religious and cultural heritage in the way we do. It’s a delicate balance that plays out  differently in various sectors, and one area that we’re very interested in is governance – how to balance tradition and progress.

Here’s a familiar scenario. It’s time to apply for a new IC, obtain an entry visa for a visiting friend, or renew your driver’s license. We all know what we’re likely to look forward to. Lining up 15 minutes before the office opens, taking a number, playing musical chairs as the queue snakes around until your number is called, and crossing your fingers that you have the correct documents and photocopies in-hand.

As you may already know, Brunei is not unique in this regard. Not by a longshot. All around the world you’ll find people who dread visiting a particular government office for one reason or another; but at varying rates across continents, some countries are embracing technology to fast-track processes, improve efficiency, and cut through bureaucratic red tape.

Que Up for Progress

To their credit, many of Brunei’s civil services have begun to embrace technology: the QueUp application, for example, allows you to book your time slot when visiting the Post Office, the Ministry of Health, and Land Transport Department, saving people many hours of waiting. And, thanks to the Ministry of Finance and Economy, registration of companies and business names can now be done completely online. It spells a promising start for modernising government processes, but it is just the tip of the iceberg for Brunei.

With many government offices still in planning stages for their move from paper record keeping to IT networks and servers, there are still advances to be gained and opportunities for those with the skillsets to make them happen. Let’s take a deeper look at the possibilities for electronic governance (eGovernance), the processes we can bring to the table, and the effects it will have on business, the public, government workers, and the different role players in our bureaucracy.

4 Types of Digital Services in E-Governance

  1. Government-to-Citizen (G2C)

    The Government-to-Citizen model refers to the relationship between administrative bodies and its citizens, and in terms of eGovernment solutions, stands to have the biggest impact on improving bureaucracy. Simply by changing the manner in which a citizen interfaces with government, from in-person to online, eGovernment solutions cut through long waiting times, human inefficiency, and lengthy processes to deliver a more effective service. Not only does this save frustration of citizens, a look back at our favourite eGov case study – Estonia – shows it saves lots of money; USD$600M in their case.

    Brunei too has begun to reap the rewards of improving G2C. After being ranked at number 105/190 in 2013’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report, by moving key services online, like business registration, their ranking climbed consistently year on year to number 56/190 in 2018. Just in terms of registering businesses, moving services online makes a lot of sense. You cut out ‘office hours’ because the internet does not close after 4pm, photocopies of documents are irrelevant – you just scan and upload what is necessary, and an internet application does not rely on the work ethic or mood of the person behind the counter. Efficiency saves time and money.

  2. Government-to-Businesses (G2B)

    When you picture the old-school model of G2B interactions, picture a government housing board needing to begin a tendering processes for a new low-cost housing scheme. Officers in the department will need to identify candidate enterprises individually, advertise the tender, send letters containing application documents, wait for the documents to arrive back, assess the documents, confirm receipt to the enterprise, perhaps request additional information, wait for their arrival, reassess all the material, and then make a decision on the first level of the tendering process. It equates to countless, unnecessary man-hours and compromises efficiency at every level.

    The idea behind a digital G2B system is reducing these barriers to efficiency by providing immediate information and enabling two-way communication. Imagine how much time would be saved by a government officer writing one piece of communication and just clicking ‘send all’ instead of repeating the same message to 15 relevant businesses. The internet enables participating enterprises to seamlessly procure legal documents, learn about government processes without needing to request information, file returns, relay internal corporate data, and perform endless more tasks. Governments in turn are able to perform tasks like sending out electronic procurement forms for tendering projects, and more than that, can collect vast amounts of data from every single transaction, and therefore have the ability to plan and forecast for the future by making data-backed decisions.

  3. Government-to-Employees (G2E)

    As citizens interfacing with government we rarely think about the plight of the employees sitting behind the counters we visit, but truth be told, they have tough and sometimes tedious jobs. Shifting services online, these employees have as much, if not more to gain by moving to electronic governance. In countries such as Brunei with a large workforce in the government sector, there is much to be gained with a good G2E infrastructure. It enables online tools, processes, and articles that help keep employees informed and in communication with their colleagues and superiors. Going digital means going paperless, which negates the all too common need to search through folders for the correct document, or leave your desk to pick up the relevant form needed to finish a simple task.

    G2E services put to good use could also allow for better human resources interactions within government with the adoption of processes like E-payroll and E-training. All things considered, adoption of this framework in Brunei could exponentially improve government efficiency and employee satisfaction in the years to come.

  4. Government-to-Government (G2G)

    When thinking of how G2G frameworks could improve governments, it’s worthwhile to look at the impact of e-commerce and e-products on the private sector in the 1990’s. As businesses began moving from national to becoming multinational corporations, the ability for the head office to communicate with regional offices around the globe, and for regional offices to communicate with each other, became crucial to the continued success of those businesses. In the very same way, government organisations, departments, and agencies that share a single network database and an integrated online system across offices, enjoy the ability to communicate, coordinate and collaborate electronically thereby lowering operating costs, reducing waste, and largely improving efficiency. Changes such as these have the power to take a government from third world to first, fast.

Enter Government 2.0

There is no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to e-governance and countries around the world have invested industry-sized budgets to scale the perfect model. In one such case in 2017, the United States pitched an estimated USD$103 billion to build their own digital foundation, but even they failed to secure a top 10 spot in the biennial United Nations E-Government Survey, a ranking where countries contest for the best-performing e-government.

The unlikely winner that year turned out to be, Denmark, a country 228 times smaller than the US, with 321 million less people. The reason for the Danes’ success is attributed to their superior ‘digital-first’ strategy. What Denmark did right, similar to Estonia many years before, was an inclusive platform where virtually every citizen was legally required to access public services online.

With the benefits of eGovernment being so difficult to argue against, what the United States/ Denmark comparison shows is that you can waste a lot of money on the best eGov. systems and ultimately fail because the right frameworks were not put in place to guarantee its success.

What this goes to show is that each country in the world needs to find it’s own roadmap to digital transformation within government, and given that Brunei rose 99 places in five years in the ease of doing business rankings, it would seem that we’re well on the way to finding our own comprehensive eGovernment solutions.

What are your thoughts on a digital makeover of Brunei’s government processes?

Looking at G2C, G2E, G2G and G2B, which sectors do you think have shown the greatest improvement, and which do think have the longest way to go?

Have you experienced any countries in the world which which seem to have a good eGovernment system?