On 15th June 2020, the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) officially launched the Cambodia Data Exchange platform (CamDX) and the online business registration platform which runs through it. This is an effort to ease the business registration process and create an attractive atmosphere for investments in the Kingdom of Cambodia. Not much later, to ease the travelling of foreign investors and businesspersons to the country, the RGC unveiled the online Validation Application on Payment Guarantee/Invitation (VAPGI), which also operates through CamDX in early August.
The online business registration and VAPGI services are the first two products that run through CamDX. Soon, more public services will join and take advantage of this local data exchange platform. As it is going digital, what does the adoption of digital government services mean for Cambodia in the 21st century?
What Drives CamDX?
In Cambodia, public service delivery almost always involves paper documents, which prove work inefficiency and prolong document processing. When the processing is inter-ministerial, citizens have to re-fill repetitive information on printed documents repeatedly. To complete one public service that involves multiple ministries, travelling from one ministry to another has become a norm for the general public.
Inspired by the experience of Estonia’s X-Road, the move to build an in-house data exchange platform came as Cambodia’s response to the challenges posed by paper-based government services. CamDX allows multilateral data to be securely exchanged between governmental institutions based on six main principles: distribution, security, reliability, no data ownership, ease of use and heterogeneity. Instead of the movement of people from one ministry to another, CamDX emphasises the movement of data.
Case Study: Delivering Online Business Registration Service
The first online service operating through CamDX is the online business registration, which involves five institutions, namely, Ministry of Interior (MOI), Ministry of Commerce (MOC), General Department of Taxation (GDT), Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MLVT) and Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC). The service is backed by Sub-Decree No. 84 S.E on Business Registration through Information Technology System.
Rather than involving multiple paper-based and semi-online application forms with different ministries, the whole registration process is now online in one single portal from filling in information to paying for the services. With a click of submission, the data will be sent to multiple ministries simultaneously via the local platform. Complete registration with MOC, GDT and MLVT takes only eight working days. Once each institution approves the application, the Single Portal issues digital certificates for the applicants without a face-to-face meeting. These digital certificates have legal value for which the companies can use. Additionally, the registration fee has also been reduced by 40%.
The provision of online customer service makes sure that every applicant has a seamless experience of the service. Despite the user-friendly and user-driven approach being used in the current system design, those who are not eloquent at technology may find online registration a challenge. A support taskforce made up of officials from all participating ministries has been created to assist the general public via hotline call, live chat, email and social network to ensure all applicants’ experience on the Single Portal is with minimal hiccups.
Almost six months after the launch, this online service has made significant progress. At the time of this writing, around 2,500 companies have been successfully registered with eight working days being the average duration to get an application approved by MOC, GDT and MLVT. Likewise, around 3,000 company names have been licensed via the platform. The total capital investment size is approximately six trillion riels, while the total size was only approximately two trillion riels in early October.
Offering a public service online comes with a price. With the experience for the online business registration, to digitalise a public service does not simply mean to put the service online. If the complexity of the service procedure remains, being online alone does not make much difference. As for the Single Portal for business registration, months were spent to understand the service’s procedure and discuss inter-ministerially how it can be simplified. Without the compromise and mutual willingness of all institutions involved, the service would have been nowhere. This is an effort to reduce the processing time, cut down cost and encourage people to register their business digitally.
Yet, this price is worth spending for. Digitalising business registration service brings much more than a lower fee, shorter processing time and more simplified procedure. Since all payments are made online and no face-to-face meeting between officers and applicants is involved, the Single Portal brings greater transparency to the public service. Applicants no longer need to spend time and money to travel from one place to another, resulting in better accessibility and work efficiency. With a high risk of infection resulting from handlings of physical documents and in-person meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic, digitalisation becomes the go-to solution.
Cambodia’s digital transformation comes with struggles and rewards. Investment in time and effort has been tremendous to ensure that business registration can go online with efficiency and effectiveness and that CamDX can be utilised to its fullest capacity. As a result of this investment, Cambodia has achieved a faster online service with a cheaper fee, more simplified procedure, greater transparency and better accessibility. During the challenging period of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital transformation becomes the most suitable solution – making it easier for both service providers and service receivers and reducing the risk of infection from physical meeting and paper documents. It should be understood that today’s investment is a commitment to a better tomorrow. Hence, digitalisation should not be an option, but a fundamental step to adapt to a new digital society and catch up with global trends.
KONG Marry is an Under Secretary of State of the Cambodian Ministry of Economy and Finance (MEF).
This article was originally published via the Centre for Inclusive Digital Economy (CIDE) of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI).