Digitization must make it convenient for people to interact with government

It has been one year since the Digital Agency was established last September. It is difficult to say that the agency has achieved anything that the public would find useful. It is hoped that the agency will exercise leadership as the government’s control tower.

Even amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the administrative work for various government benefits was processed on paper, delaying the provision of benefits. Glitches were found one after another in the contact tracing app developed by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The appearance of such adverse effects from the slow adoption of digitization led to the creation of the agency.

Some progress has been made over the past year. Last December, the agency developed a smartphone app that certifies a user’s COVID-19 vaccination record. The application provides the necessary certificates for overseas travel, and users have praised the app for making the process smoother.

It is necessary for the agency to accurately grasp the needs of the people and introduce user-friendly systems.

The largest project that the agency is engaged in is the establishment of the “government cloud,” in which the central and local governments can share data. This will unify the tax, resident registration and other systems that have been maintained separately by local governments.

The government cloud is expected to be implemented in fiscal 2025, but its detailed system design has been delayed. Some local governments are concerned about the increased financial burden. The central government must carefully consult with local governments and strengthen the government cloud against information leaks and cyber-attacks.

The agency oversees the government’s overall digital policies and has the authority to make recommendations to other ministries and agencies. However, so far it is difficult to say that the agency is fully utilizing its powerful authority.

This spring, the health ministry increased medical treatment fees for medical institutions that have installed card reader machines to encourage the use of the My Number identification card, which also can function as a health insurance card. But as a result, patients are now paying more out-of-pocket fees than they would if they used their separate normal insurance cards.

In response to a series of comments from users, the ministry decided in August to lower the fees from the use of the My Number cards as insurance cards. This is evidence of insufficient communication between the ministry and the agency.

No matter how much the government promotes digitization, if it does not lead to a reduction in the burden on the public and improved convenience, the government’s goal may turn out to be a mirage. It is essential that the agency ensure that all ministries and agencies are fully aware of this.

The agency is staffed with 750 members, including people from the IT industry and other parts of the private sector, as well as seconded staff from various ministries and agencies. Many of them from the private sector are at a loss when it comes to dealing with such matters as Diet affairs, making communication between those from the private sector and those from government bodies essential.

The agency must strive for transparent and open organizational management as a valuable opportunity for the public and private sectors to exchange human resources.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 31, 2022)