NBCentralAsia observers appreciate the government’s efforts to create an electronic government; however, for the idea to come true the authorities should provide a freer access to information and the Internet.
In late April, Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov signed a decree to create a unified system of information and communication technologies in the sphere of public administration. The degree also envisages introduction of fiber optic communications systems to provide “quality interaction” between the cabinet and respective state bodies.
It is expected that electronic technologies will raise the efficiency of public administration and interaction between different spheres.
The spread of new information and communication techonologies and a wider access to the Internet is Berdymuhammedov’s main idea that he has been declaring in all programs since he came to power in 2007. He lifted the ban on the access to the Internet exisitng in the country before, instructed to provide kindergartens, schools, and universities with computer labs and modern thchnologies, and to commission new buildings into operation only if they have equipment for Internet-connection.
By mid-2009, nine ministries and other state bodies launched their own web-sites.
However, there are still difficulties with the access to information. In the country with a five-million population, there are only 15 Internet cafes that provide their clients with a controlled access to the internet, and the authorities block independent Central Asian and foreign web-sites publishing alternative information.
At schools and universities equipped with Internet connection, teachers either prohibit their students to use internet or limit their access to several sites. The Internet is still unaccessible for the majority of the population.
Proclaiming the launch of the electronic government, the authorities said nothing about its main concept that envisages access to information not only for state bodies but also for citizens. This is the main condition for the efficient work of electronic government bodies, say commentators.
“We do not see any moves to create the elements of e-government,” says Annadurdy Khajiev, a Turkmen NBCentralAsia expert based in Bulgaria. “There are several forms of interaction under the e-government system – between the state and citizens, between the state and business, and between different branches of the state power”.
The idea of creating the e-government envisages openness and broad citizens’ participation in the government, orientation to clients’ needs, when ministries and state bodies can provide services to the population via the Internet, that will improve the interaction between the state and people.
For example, with the help of sites of the state bodies citizens could send their suggestions and petitions, see how officials are working on them, and learn about court decisions that could be published on portal of judiciary bodies.
Observers say that in neighbouring Kazakstan a similar model strengthened the partnership between the state and the population. For example, legal proceedings could become more transparent. Before, a defendant could not see the progress of his case; now the system could enable all parties to the case learn about legal proceedings.
However, the e-government system requires free access to the Internet and conditions for the authorities’ transparent activities – the factors that are still lacking in Turkmenistan.
“Ministries and state bodies have problems with the Internet access,” says an NBCentralAsia observer in Ashgabat, who has for many years worked as a public servant.
When this article was writte, he polled managers of line ministries about the creation of the e-government in Turkmenistan and their opinion to this novelty.
“The interviews show that the idea of creating the e-government was a simple declaration without many people understanding what it really means,” says the official. “At this stage, the strategy includes creation of the information base for electronic exchange of information between ministries and state bodies”.
An official at the Turkmen Ministry of Communications, who requested anonymity, says that the new project is “another attempt to show everyone that Turkmenistan is a civilized society”.
“In reality, the country is moving back,” says the official. “We are living in an isolated environment – “we see nothing, hear nothing, and tell nothing””.
An official at the Ministry of Economy and Development doubts that administrative processes will become more transparent with the arrival of the e-government.
“We have tried to hold an e-vote, but even in this situation [they] managed to rig the voting results. I do not think that anything will change this time”.
A lecturer at Polytechnic Institute in Ashgabat says that the new technologies are another form of the state PR designated to improve the image of the authorities.
“Everyday, TV shows our government members,” says the lecturer. “They were holding notepads before, now there are laptops standing in front of them. It is not clear why there are [laptops], they are not looking at them anyway.”