“Better public service bodes well for a country’s higher economic growth”

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Established in 2012, ASAN (Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network) aims to provide more than 320 public services to citizens of Azerbaijan within one center. It has gathered 10 state bodies under one roof saving time, money and energy of citizens as they can get all government services from one place. Notary services, birth, death and marriage registration, identity cards, driving license, and passports, among others, are only part of services Azerbaijani citizens can in an accessible way via ASAN. It operates under the supervision and direct control of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, which was established by decree of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan to enhance the efficiency and quality of public services. 

Jeyhun Salmanov, Deputy Chairman of the State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations of under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan was recently in Nepal for a visit. In an interview with New Business Age, Salmanov talked about public services and the role of technology in government services. 

What role do you think social innovations play in the economic growth of a country like Nepal? What are the experiences of Azerbaijan in this regard? 
Since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union, during the last 30 years, Azerbaijan has achieved significant progress in the field of good governance and social innovations. If you have a look at international rankings you could see how those improvements have been positively reflected on Azerbaijan’s position in those rankings.  

The state body I represent (State Agency for Public Service and Social Innovations under the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan) is responsible, along with its other activities, for the introduction of social innovations in the field of public service delivery.  Those innovations are aimed primarily at easing the access of our citizens as well as business to government services on one hand and maximizing the efficiency of the government entities on the other.  One of the major goals of social innovations is a positive impact on a business-government relationship. As it is necessary to create favorable conditions for business for an economy to grow. If you have a look at international business rankings you could see the significant progress of Azerbaijan in this regard.

Countries which experience a shortage of resources, should apply social innovations to increase the quality of government services as it will eventually positively affect the growth of the private sector as well. Also, it is important to apply innovative solutions in the tourism, agriculture and energy production in Nepal as those sectors have the greatest shares in the economy and potential for growth.

At the end of the day, application of innovative technologies eventually will reduce the costs and increase the efficiency of performance in different sectors

What is the situation of public service in Azerbaijan? How does the government ensure quality public services to the citizens? 
In 2012 the Azerbaijani President I. Aliyev launched a large-scale government reforms. The major goal of those reforms was to increase the effectiveness of government entities, make government services more accessible to citizens and to ensure transparency in publicservices delivering entities. As a part of those reforms, the State Agency which I represent was established.The major functions of the State Agency were to unify public services provided by the governmentin a single space, accelerate the development of e-governance in Azerbaijan and foster socialinnovations. In order to collect the major government rendered services under one roof, “ASANService” centers were created under the direct management of the State Agency. ASAN is onestop-shop public service delivery model, where 10 ministries and a number of private entities are presented. In past 7 years, more than 36 million citizen applications wereprocessed within“ASAN service” centers, while the number of rendered services exceeded 320. At the moment, there are 16 “ASAN Service” centers throughout the country. One of the most revolutionaryachievement of this organization has been a great success in making government services more transparent for public.Worthwhile to note that the State Agency got the United Nations Public Service Award twice (in 2015 and 2019) due to its contribution to the development of public service delivery system of Azerbaijan. Last year we were awarded due to our achievements in digitalization of public service delivery as Azerbaijan put significant effort in development of e-governance and has gained significant progress in this regard.  

Last year, during the United Nations Public Service Forum, you said that “ASAN Service” aims to apply innovative technologies in Azerbaijan’s public services. How are the innovative technologies being implemented and what results have been produced? 
We have been actively implementing modern technologies since the opening of the first “ASAN service” center. Our goal is to minimize time waste both for our citizens and employees. Technologies are necessary to reach this goal. If you visit any of our centers you can see how widely we apply new technologies in all stages of the service delivery process. For instance, there’s an Electronic Queue Management System. Visitors can get a queue number online before coming to the center via a special mobile application. We also have an electronic feedback system and whoever visits our center is asked to rate the quality of our services. Firstly, it helps us to determine the satisfaction level of citizens. Secondly, we actively use those feedbacks to improve our service quality. 

One of our major responsibilities is the development of e-governance in Azerbaijan. Thus, we have developed the e-government portal whereby anyone can access public services online. About 450 services are provided through that portal. The development of e-government is crucial for building a citizen-government relationship in the most efficient way. If you need to get a certain license from some state body, you do need to waste time going there anymore. You can do it online. In other words, all the information at the top of your fingers.  

What are your observations on public service in Nepal? What things need to be improved? 
Starting from the airport, I have observed how service processes are build up. Although there is a huge scope for improvement, the will to develop is the most important element.  We saw that the Nepal government is making a great effort to improve the quality of services and apply best practices to achieve a higher level of citizen satisfaction. 

I believe Nepal has big potential for the development of tourism. Thus, I think the visa application process has to be improved. For instance, I made an online application, but when I reached the airport, I realized that I forgot my immigration paper at home. When I approached the officials they said I need to do the process again. I lost two hours because of that what could be avoided. Yet, the visa procedure is just one of the examples. A holistic approach should be taken with regards to making public service delivery more efficient, accessible and transparent. 

Azerbaijan’s economic progress over the past three decades has been much more than other former Soviet Union countries. What factors are behind Azerbaijan’s economic success?  
The main income source of Azerbaijan, for now, is the oil and gas industry.  Yet, a great effort has been put into the development of the non-oil sector and significant results have been achieved.  We have heavily modernized the agriculture sector and invested in the development of alternative energy production. 

However, our top priority is the development of human capital as we believe it is the most valuable asset. To develop any field of economy you need solid experts, thus, the economic success of any nation is dependent on its human capital. We have heavily invested in the development of the education system within Azerbaijan and the education of our compatriots in the most prestigious world universities covered by the government scholarship program.

One of our Agency’s responsibilities is to support the development of new startups. We build new incubation and acceleration centers for them where they can get mentorship for transforming their business ideas into real projects. We also provide them with the opportunity to present their start-ups to investors to attract necessary funds.

Now we are planning to open the Azerbaijan Innovation House in Silicon Valley which will help us to be close to the world tech centers. We believe it will foster the development of young talented Azerbaijani entrepreneurs and become a bridge between Azerbaijan and Silicon Valley.  

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