Interview: Mohammed Ali Al Qaed
What progress has the government made in digitalising the provision of public services?
MOHAMMED AL QAED: Bahrain was the first country in the region to adopt public cloud services. This and other advancements are reflected in its ranking 26th worldwide, sixth in Asia and second in the GCC in the UN’s 2018 E-Government Development Index, which scored member states on ICT infrastructure, human capital and online public services. In the infrastructure index, Bahrain ranked fourth globally.
Currently, over 360 government services are available through multiple online channels, including the national portal and a range of mobile applications. We have made progress in several sectors and eliminated various unnecessary procedures.
In addition to the numerous annual surveys that the iGA conducts, its foreign investment surveys equip investors with an integrated, accurate database of statistics with which to explore investment opportunities and evaluate the investment climate. Furthermore, the Tajir mobile application will be launched to provide a set of services to the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism (MICT) in order to facilitate procedures, transactions and eServices for businesses. Lastly, the Sehati application was launched in conjunction with the Ministry of Health in 2017 to support the provision of medical services.
How has the rollout of those e-government services affected the administration’s budget?
AL QAED: Moving from cash to digital payments has brought significant benefits to the government by increasing transparency, reducing expenditure and accruing costs savings in the long run. Between 2016 and 2018 the ICT eGovernance Committee saved government entities nearly BD6.8m ($18m) in project expenditure and procurements. Over the same period an additional set of initiatives conducted by the committee resulted in savings of BD7.1m ($18.8m) in communication, IT licences and state financial transactions, while the replacement of monthly electricity and water bills with electronic bills has reduced printing costs by BD1.3m ($3.4m). Similarly, the eMeeting++ System, which was launched to reduce waste from board packets, contributed to savings of around 84% for the Council of Representatives by eliminating nearly 24,300 papers in a single legislative session.
The MICT’s Business Licensing Integrated System, Sijilat.bh, provides comprehensive services for expeditiously issuing commercial registrations and business licenses. Furthermore, the Pre-Employment Health Check-up for Expatriates workers’ scheme has simplified procedures and shortened waiting times from three months to one week. We have also developed the Tasareeh platform for issuing building permits and licences, which has helped to reduce the registration period to three days.
What role have public-private partnerships played in advancing the structural development of the country’s ICT sector?
AL QAED: The full-fledged, active e-government programme emphasises the collaboration of several public and private entities to continuously develop big national projects, diversify channels and improve the environment for ICT, in order to provide online services to an international audience in one single platform. Thus, the private sector plays a major role in helping to realise Economic Vision 2030.
The maturity of cloud security measures can be seen through agreements with global companies like Amazon Web Services. The successful migration to the cloud has so far resulted in savings of 90% in infrastructure maintenance, monitoring and security. In addition, we have also formed successful partnerships with firms like Microsoft and Huawei to standardise IT among various public entities.
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