Digital tech slowly seeping into Myanmar, but still a long way to go

Myanmar is trying to learn the ropes of recent advances in digitization that ease the often frustrating burden of manual, paper-based administrative and business procedures.

The country’s first digital customs management system, the Myanmar Automated Cargo Clearance System, was launched on Nov. 15 at the customs offices near the Port of Yangon, the largest trading port in Myanmar. The system was introduced by NTT Data with the help of 4 billion yen ($34 million) in official development assistance from the Japanese government.

Since then, the office has fielded a number of inquiries from importers and exporters unfamiliar with the new system.
Before MACCS, customs clearance in Myanmar was based on paper documentation.

As it takes considerable time to screen such documents, it is common for merchandise to remain at a port for days.
The implementation of MACCS has changed the system, so that traders only have to input data on a special online form.
“Customs procedures can be completed in only a few seconds,” said an official at the customs house.

The transition to digital has caused confusion among users, as many of them are not familiar with the digitized procedures. Still, it was a “huge step” toward streamlining workflow, said MACCS Division Director Win Thant, because “the number of staff members at the Myanmar customs is only one-tenth of Japan’s.”

Meanwhile, most of the country’s other administrative procedures still depend on manual processing.

Due to the years of economic doldrums caused by the country’s former military rule that delayed investment in the IT sector, computers have not yet been supplied to all government employees.

According to the 2016 edition of the E-Government Development Index released by the United Nations, Myanmar ranked 169th out of 193 surveyed countries and dead last among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The delay in implementing digital technology is also a thorn in the side of foreign companies seeking to do business in the country.

The investment application process requires them to prepare several copies of documents that can total 100 pages or more. As the country’s administrative system is often vertically divided, investors must obtain permission from multiple ministries and agencies.

But there is no system in place that shares applications among ministries and agencies, so applicants often find themselves having to do the rounds of public offices.

In the first economic agenda released in July by the new government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the digitization of public systems was included in the 12 key policy goals.

It may have reflected the sense of crisis felt by the government, launched at the end of March, that the delayed digitization has stymied domestic economic activities.

Certainly, there is a huge latent demand for digitization in the country.

NTT Data has also developed a digital payment system for the Central Bank of Myanmar, and is looking to meet demand from the public sector.

Hitachi Solutions last year won the contract for a digital management system to be introduced at the Myanmar Port Authority.
However, the Myanmar government, which is focusing on electric power development and road construction, lacks the money to fund the digitization effort.

“ODA from Japan is the sole anchor,” said a senior official of Myanmar’s government office in charge of economic matters.
This situation makes it difficult for the country to climb up from its last-place standing among ASEAN members in the EGDI ranking.

Source: Asian Review

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