Mallika Mahajan & Pawan Kumar Sinha
India is intent on improving its Ease of Doing Business rankings where it has been languishing between 130 and 139. India’s desire to break into the top 50 rank-holders is understandable. Given the knowledge asymmetries, this index has become a yardstick to judge a country’s safety from viewpoint of capital investment by any agency or business enterprise. One way to do this is to learn from one’s peers, those who have raced ahead in the rankings, in the shortest time.
One such example is Georgia. It has leap- frogged from a lowly position of 112 in 2005, to 16 in 2012. This is owed undoubtedly to the many reforms undertaken by its young leaders post the Rose Revolution in 2003. However, if one delves deeper within the 10 sectors which make up the Ease of Doing Business Index, it is seen that in three sectors of Registering Property, dealing with construction permits, and starting a business, Georgia has done even better than its overall rank in the Index. The sole reason for this is the Public Service Halls or PSHs of Georgia. This innovation won the country the United Nations Public Service Award in 2013, and is regarded as a major achievement by local and international observers.
Interestingly, the idea for the public service hall originated at a management retreat held by the ministry of justice. The focus of the retreat was on how agencies can improve services, reduce delays, and make bureaucratic processes as painless as possible.
Prior to the formation of the PSHs, citizens wishing to obtain an identity card, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, to register a property or business, had to go to different agencies to obtain appropriate services. With the establishment of the PSHs, time, effort and costs of accessing various public services have fallen sharply. For instance, registering property involved eight procedures, took on an average 39 days, and cost about 2.5% of the property’s value. Now, it takes just one procedure, two days, and the cost has come down to 0.1%. As a result, Georgia, in 2017, ranks third in the world in the ease of registering property. India, on the other hand, ranks 138 in the same sector. Similarly, Georgia ranks 8 in terms of ‘Starting a Business’, against India’s rank of 155. For getting a construction permit Georgia ranks 8 in the 2017 Index against India’s rank of 185 in this sector. Obviously, Georgia is doing something very right in the PSHs.
On one’s visit to the PSD Hall in Tbilisi, the first thing which strikes is the beautiful facade of the building, which is shaped in the form of mushrooms. All the 19 PSHs are architectural marvels with wide use of glass to denote transparency and openness of governance.
The PSHs were started in 2004 for all documents, over the issuance of which government had a monopoly such as business registrations, birth certificates, ID card, passports, marriage certificates, totalling more than 300 services, presently expanded to 400 services. Interestingly, if one wants eviction of an illegal encroachment from one’s property, one comes to the PSH.
Front and back offices are separated physically and functionally, meaning citizens can no longer interact with back-office workers involved in decision making. Immense coordination goes on at the back-end amongst various ministries and departments of the government so that all services are delivered without a glitch at the front-end.
Each PSH is divided into three different areas to minimise waiting time. These are the Long Service Areas, the quick service area for giving information, issuance of ready documents, registration decisions and the like and the self service area for taking Biometric photos, cash withdrawal from ATMs, receiving extracts and the like.
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User feedback kiosks are placed conspicuously at various places in the PSHs. As a result of the feedback, two latest additions in customer facilitation have been affected in the Tbilisi PSH. These are the JUSTdrive and the JUSTcafe. Customers are able to receive printed documents through a drive-in window. In the JUSTcafe, the customer can avail services of the PSH while having coffee and snacks. There are children play areas so that the mothers can transact essential business without hassle.
All fees charged are clear and in writing—as are the time frames for issuing various documents. In some cases, processes that used to involve bribes have been simply formalised and made legal. For example, for a special fee, citizens can get documents processed the same day—much like they used to pay bribes to speed things up. Information technology (IT) has played a critical role to transparently track the flow of documents. Digitising old Soviet archival records and cadastral information from every property registry office was a monumental task.
The database includes satellite images, digital maps, and cadastral information and is linked to other government agencies, including the ministry of finance and the civil registry. Diplomatic missions and consular posts are also connected to this database. It is mandatory for medical institutions to send messages about births and deaths electronically to a central agency within five working days.
Various surveys have indicated that only 1% of respondents felt that unofficial payments were needed to obtain official documents. In 2003, Georgia was ranked 124 of 133 countries on the CPI. In 2015, it’s ranked 48 of 168 countries. If India had to prioritise, these PSHs model can be adopted and made an integral part of the Smart Cities. With effective central and state coordination maximum numbers of services can be provided less than one umbrella. Such reforms touch a common man’s daily life and showcase in the simplest way the ease of life in a country.
Mahajan is commissioner, CBEC and Sinha, ADG, NACEN, CBEC. Views are personal.