COVID19: Deadly virus forces Cyprus to embrace digital era

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Due to adversity, Cyprus has had to up its game in digital technology by offering online government solutions to help the public and businesses navigate the COVID-19 lockdown.

Deputy Minister of Innovation Kyriacos Kokkinos told CNA that his newly established ministry is focusing on preparations to offer more online services to help through the crisis.

Kokkinos said adjustments to the action plan have been made since his new Deputy Ministry was established in March due to needs dictated by the crisis and social distancing.

“What we have started to do is to see how by making small steps horizontally in all Ministries, we can automate services and offer them to citizens and the business community,” said Kokkinos.

He said steps that were part of longer-term planning to be implemented within two or three years now has to be done within a matter of months.

“Priorities have now changed because we need to deliver immediately, to bring it forward, so that we can offer services.”

He gave the example of Citizen Service Centres, where the goal is instead of having 1,000 people per day visiting them, to offer services electronically and reduce that number to 100 to 200 visits per day.

There are other government departments in need of a digital upgrade such as the Registrar of Companies, the Town Planning and Housing Department and the Land Registry which many businesses are required to visit.

Workable e-government

The Deputy Minister is convinced that workable e-government can be achieved despite the lack of infrastructure.

“We have started to put down in writing which things should or could be digitalised so that the public and business community can be offered services electronically.”

A necessary prerequisite according to Kokkinos is the electronic signature, which is expected to be implemented quicker than its planned introduction in January 2021.

In many cases the digitization of procedures will also mean the need for simplification, that equates with reducing red tape.

“This is our priority right now.”

The coronavirus pandemic has ushered a new reality which caught Cyprus off guard with an inadequate e-governance structure.

“This crisis, although terrible, has made us review our thinking and take steps which we should have possibly started or even completed earlier…it has now become imperative to do them,” said Kokkinos.
“I have had a very good response from government staff, both from my colleagues and other Ministries, that what we are trying to do is both feasible and desirable.”

He said the cost of not having digital services is much higher than implementing them.

He said that large projects which cost millions and have been ongoing for some time such as digitization of hospitals and the courts will continue according to plan.

More immediate needs are automated services offered to the public that aid social distancing rules.

A recent example was the application for subsidies offered by the Ministry of Labour where within two weeks a system was up and running through which people submitted their applications electronically.

“Cooperation with the Ministry of Labour was impeccable and we implemented the system in record time.”

Kokkinos said that this system will be improved upon so that the next application procedure will run even more smoothly.

“Major steps should be completed within the next three to six months.”

After years of roaming in the technological wilderness, COVID-19-stricken Cyprus has realised that e-government should be a top priority.