Furthering his own initiative of one year ago, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov decreed the introduction of e-government in the country June 11, which will allow more government programmes and agencies to work on the internet.
“Former President Saparmurat Niyazov could promise something and forget all about it – unlike Berdymukhamedov, who keeps his word and moves toward his proclaimed goal step by step,” Vitaly Shukurov, 40, a programming engineer from Ashgabat, said.
Berdymukhamedov first voiced the idea in April 2010, instructing Turkmen specialists “to study international experience in the relevant area.” He followed that by establishing an IT unit to guide e-government implementation.
Computer availability has increased since 2007
Since Berdymukhamedov’s election in 2007, the number of internet clubs in the country has grown, schools have received computers, civil servants last year had to take PC user courses, and all government institutions were connected to the internet, Shukurov said.
Previously, the government’s work stream flowed through telephones, faxes or couriers.
“Introducing e-government should improve management efficiency, facilitate real-time control over each stage of the business management process, reduce workflow time, and simplify the search for information needed for managerial decision-making,” economist Didar Meretova of Ashgabat said.
Balkanabad resident Khalmurat Atekeyev had never heard of e-government until he saw Berdymukhamedov speak about it on TV, but that announcement caused him to get online.
“It turns out this is a great thing! If the president succeeds in making e-government services available not only to government agencies but also to ordinary citizens, life in Turkmenistan will become easier, like it is in the world's developed countries,” he said.
Atekeyev hopes computerising workflow will save online users the need to stand in long lines in banks, notary offices, passport bureaus and traffic police departments.
Some hurdles exist as Turkmenistan moves to computerization
But some people raise the spectre of challenges in Turkmenistan – including lack of computers and training, internet underdevelopment, and non-transparency within the government.
“We are still far behind,” said Mamedali Khanmamedov, a Turkmenbat freelance journalist, who said the country still has too few computers.
And people “often use computers for non-work purposes and at less than full capacity – they often play cards or other games,” Khanmamedov said.
Kerim Annaliyev, a mathematics teacher at a high school in Abadan, pointed to internet underdevelopment as another challenge.
“Ever since MTS, a Russian cellular operator, ceased providing its services (in December), the situation with the internet has grown worse,” he said. “The proposed e-government system will stumble at every step unless authorities ... recognise internet development as a priority and make sure it is high-speed, mobile and accessible to all.”
More computer literacy courses are needed, too, Aman Gurtkhanov, a high school graduate from Bairamali, said. Akbibi Atakova, a retired employee of the Chief Archive Administration, recalled when the Social Security Ministry ordered a shift toward e-archiving.
“All archival documents were saved electronically, with the paper originals destroyed,” she said. “Then the computer crashed, and the entire database was lost irrevocably, leaving people with no pension at all or with meagre pay in its stead.”
Another problem is the non-transparency of government agencies.
“Any document produced within a khakimlik (municipal government) or ministry contains information, and information in our country ... is strictly guarded,” said a state TV journalist from Ashgabat, who gave only his first name, Yakub. “That’s why free access to information needs to be ensured in the first place, or the project is bound to fail – even if the president gluts the country with computers, provides internet access for all and trains capable personnel.”
Government moves to overcome challenges
Berdymukhamedov is aware of the hurdles and has made moves to overcome some of them. He ordered computer literacy courses for government employees, students and schoolchildren at the beginning of this year, for example.
“The e-government project is important not only for systematizing the government agencies’ activities, but for the social-political development of the society on the whole,” Berdymukhamedov said in a speech at a Turkmenistan-UNDP conference on establishing e-government and information technologies in Ashgabat in March. “Our goal is to introduce computerization in every sphere of activities and provide accessibility of the technology for the people.”
Turkmenistan is discussing implementation and support for the e-government project with the UNDP.