In May, almost one million unemployed Thais tried to access their compensation benefits from Social Security funds. The system for approving compensation was overloaded. The complicated technical process caused a bottleneck and a huge delay.
The process involves printing out a form, writing the applicant’s information by hand and then scanning the form back into the system to register the request.
Almost one million people. Almost one million forms. Almost one million repetitions of the same thing. Obviously, this doesn’t make any sense in 2020. In fact, it wouldn’t even make sense in 2010.
Is this Thailand 4.0?
The Grand Proclamation
Back in 2016, General Prayut Chan-ocha proclaimed the Thailand 4.0 strategy with a new set of economic and social policies that aims to position Thailand as a developed nation, capable of hosting high-tech industries.
To realize the vision, the “e-Government 4.0” initiative was also announced by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT), now known as the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES).
The goal was the digital transformation of Thailand’s government agencies.
Four years after the grand announcement, today we are still required to submit an ID copy when requesting benefits.
Many government websites are almost useless when it comes to serving people online.
The Bureaucratic Mindset
The agency responsible for digitizing the Thai government is the Digital Government Development Agency (DGA). As of 2018, the Office of the Prime Minister took over direct control of the agency.
Yes, that means General Prayut is directly in charge.
The agency’s role is to develop policies and standards related to digital transformation, to deliver digital platforms that are accessible to government services and to provide advice to state agencies.
Since its initial formation in 2011, DGA (known then as the Electronic Government Agency,EGA) has made multiple platforms available to the public and the government sector.
On the surface, these platforms seem impressive.
For example, there’s Open Government Data that gathers the data of all government agencies in one place for public access. Then there’s Biz Portal that enables businesses to register themselves online. There’s even a website that displays government tax revenue and spendings in neat looking charts and graphs, so we would know how they are spending our tax money.
They all have the same problem though. Their functionalities are so hollow you won’t be able to make much use of these platforms.
In fact, most people don’t even know these platforms exist.
When 2,000 Becomes One
This is Thai bureaucracy in a nutshell.
All bells and whistles. Painting pretty images for PR photos. The obsession to do something just to add to the portfolio, rather than focusing on what truly matters: making it actually work.
Imagine, for example, www.เราไม่ทิ้งกัน.com (No One Left Behind) and Social Securities are just one website. When an unemployed worker logs in, he would know exactly which benefit he is eligible for and can apply to.
Take a look at the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service (GDS), with its GOV.UK initiative launched in 2012.
Previously, there were nearly 2,000 different government websites scattered across the internet. GDS however combined all of them into a single GOV.UK website directory, with the focus on “servicing the people” and making the experience as simple, clear and fast as possible.
It even got a “Design of the Year” award from the British Design Museum in 2013 and topped the United Nations E-Government survey in 2016.
Having GOV.IN.TH for Thailand would be fulfilling the vision of Thailand 4.0, would it not?
With General Prayut’s office directly overseeing the digital transformation of the Thai government, surely… well.