A new Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report says digitization of transaction public services would reduce red tape and corruption, and save money in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The report, released in Washington, D.C. on Monday, says digital transactional public services take 74 percent less time than face-to-face transactions, cost much less and reduce corruption.
“Nevertheless, in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is still little investment to offer transactions online,” the IDB said. “The result? Citizens, firms and public institutions lose time, money and productivity.”
According to a new report, “Wait No More: Red Tape and Digital Government in Latin America and the Caribbean,” completing a government transaction in the region takes an average of 5.4 hours, and up to 11 hours in some countries.
Delivering in-person transactions costs up to 40 times more than what delivering the same transaction online would cost, the report says.
But, it says, only in three countries in the region — Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay — are more than half of government transactions available online.
In the European Union, the report says 81 percent of transactions are available to start online. In the region, the report says “the drastically reduced availability contributes to the fact that only 7 percent of people reported having done their last transaction online.”
“This report outlines a path for reforms to simplify and digitize government transactions, focusing on the citizen experience and making strategic use of digital tools,” said Ana María Rodríguez-Ortiz, manager of the IDB’s Institutions for Development Department.
“These reforms promote competitiveness, trust in government and social inclusion through agile citizen-state interaction,” she added.
The report says only half of all transactions are completed in one interaction with the corresponding public institution, and 25 percent require three interactions or more, “which generates a high cost when attempting to access basic services such as education, health, paying taxes or obtaining a birth certificate.”
The study finds that the cost of transactions is relatively higher for low-income people, “given that they generally have less flexibility at work and thus lose precious income when they have to spend time in line to conduct a transaction.”
The report says 30 percent of low-income people reported having paid a bribe to conduct a transaction, compared with 25 percent of higher-income people.
Low-income people also conduct government transactions at a lower rate than higher-income people, leading to less access to government programs and benefits, the report says.
It says there are many obstacles to digital government transactions, “such as the fact that only 66 percent of people in the region have a subscription to mobile broadband, and 11 percent to fixed connection broadband.”
Only 40 percent have a debit card, necessary for making payments online, the report says.
It says the few transactions that are available online can be difficult to do, even for people with high levels of education.
Forty percent of survey respondents reported that they failed in their last attempt to conduct a government transaction online, according to the report.
Additionally, it says governments seem to make little effort to understand the citizen experience: only 6 percent of countries in the region systematically analyze the unsuccessful experiences with online transactions.
The report, therefore, recommends understanding “the true citizen experience with government transactions through surveys, direct observation or administrative data and use this information to redesign the transactions with the citizen experience in mind.”
It also urges elimination of unnecessary, redundant or obsolete transactions; and invest in broadening access to online transactions, and building digital government with tools such as interoperability platforms, digital identity and digital signature, among others.
In addition, the report recommends improvement in the quality of in-person provision of transactions through investment in qualified personnel and one-stop shops.