Interview: U Thant Sin Maung

What progress has been made regarding the implementation of the e-government programme?

U THANT SIN MAUNG: In Myanmar every sector still needs to be developed, so the implementation of government-wide digitisation is a sizeable task. We have been rolling out our e-governance master plan since 2016, and we have already seen tangible results. In the most recent UN E-Government Development Index released in 2018, Myanmar climbed 12 places to 157th. Widened connectivity has been central to this, driven largely by increased mobile coverage. To build on this early success, we have been preparing the spectrum roadmap for Myanmar since 2016. There are no restrictions on the technology or services that telecoms licensees can use – they have the freedom to choose the technologies and spectrum they want. The timeline for 5G deployment is dependent on the chosen spectrum, but we expect this to take place in most cases in 2022. The second focus for our e-government policy is application services. For example, we are in the process of establishing a unique identity number for all people in Myanmar. Unit ID system is fundamental and a big step for e-government, e-commerce and digital financial services. Human capacity remains a challenge for government digitisation; this is dependent on the education system, and improvements will take time. We can enact some changes now through sector-by-sector development, working on each task with a specific group of trained employees. Cooperation is crucial among ministries, and under the guidance provided by the e-Government Steering Committee, cooperation and coordination mechanisms have been strengthened.

How do you assess the developing legal and regulatory framework in the ICT sector?

THANT SIN MAUNG: The cyber law is the main piece of legislation currently being developed for the sector. Formulated with technical assistance from the World Bank, the law will cover a range of topics including e-commerce, e-government and cybersecurity. The cybersecurity regulations are largely based on the Budapest Convention and aim to implement best practices from the EU and internationally, which will help to align us with our neighbours. In terms of e-commerce, we have used pilot schemes and trials to facilitate best outcomes. With a draft form of the law set to be released soon, we will ensure that stakeholders are given the chance to discuss the regulations, including public consultations, particularly in light of recent developments. One concern that has arisen is the role of social media in the 2020 election. Facebook is particularly vital in Myanmar – we have 20m internet users, 18m of which are Facebook users. We are working with the platform in order to prevent misinformation and ensure an open, free and fair election.

In what ways will Myanmar benefit from the move to a Unicode text system?

THANT SIN MAUNG: Due in part to its isolation, Myanmar has traditionally not used the universal character-encoding Unicode text system, but instead used a non-Unicode system. We are among the last countries to change from a proprietary system, and the process of migrating from non-Unicode to Unicode has been challenging. The change started at the government level in April 2019, and October 1 was set as the deadline for the whole country to move to the new system. However, we expect that some users may take some time to migrate to the new system. Although difficult, the transition will be hugely beneficial, enabling communication lines to expand and become more precise. For example, non-Unicode is not compatible with technologies such as voice-to-text or translation applications. Unicode can work more accurately with the Myanmar writing system across many regional languages and dialects. This means that websites that were coded in non-Unicode will now be in Unicode, therefore able to be translated into English or Mandarin, for example.