Gov’t going paperless a tall order

, National 4 minutes, 13 seconds


MANY civil servants are still reluctant to adopt changes in reducing paper consumption a year after a former minister urged government employees to go paperless during the 11th Legislative Council sitting.

Former Minister of Communications Pehin Orang Kaya Hamzah Pahlawan Dato Seri Setia Hj Abdullah Begawan Mudim Dato Paduka Hj Bakar had said there were cases where civil servants still use paper instead of electronic mail to communicate within ministries.

The government, through its e-Government National Centre (EGNC), has been promoting the e-Darussalam portal to improve the ease of applying for government services among the public, a move that seeks to reduce the use of paper.

However, civil servants said many departments have yet to shed their preference in using paper for official communication.

An official from the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) said mails in hard copy or paper form were still being delivered physically among departments within the force.

“For example, letters would be sent from one department to another or one station to another. The letters could include letters about functions, an upcoming police course, meetings or even invitations,” said the officer, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions.

He said “urgent” letters would be sent by car so that “officers would receive it directly by hand”.

“It is possible for these letters to be sent through emails, but I guess it is because officers would rather receive it directly in “black and white” as having more authenticity,” he said.

Asked why officers do not send letters via email, he said it was due to how the RBPF has always operated.

“They are accustomed to it. I guess you could say it is like a tradition,” he said.

According to an ITB study in 2013, Brunei generated roughly 37,887 tonnes of paper waste a year.

According to 2006 figures by the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation, paper made up 18 per cent of total waste in Brunei.

The government did not release data on how much paper waste is generated in the public sector each year.

It is also not known how much the government spends on purchasing paper every year.

An officer from the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports said it is a challenge to go paperless as the notion is, “if it is not black and white, then it does not exist”.

“Even if letters are sent through email, there would be instances where we would have to print it out so people could see its physical form. There is an issue of trust with the digital world,” said the officer who declined to be named.

She went on to say that the impact and importance of saving paper has not quite hit home with the older generation.

“I don’t think they fully understand the implications of climate change and are not aware of the importance of going green,” she said, admitting that the effort to go paperless is complicated.

She added that her office was unable to go paperless because there were not enough computers and no Internet access.

A teacher at a sixth form centre said there was a lack of confidence in using online systems in place of paper for administrative work in his school because paper is perceived as a permanent form of records.

“Sometimes these systems that we have would lag or malfunction and it would take forever to key in a simple record.

“I suppose we feel that the records on paper would always stay but if we were to rely on digital records, they might be gone should anything go wrong with the database in certain situations such as cyber attacks,” added the teacher who also requested for anonymity.

In neighbouring countries such as Singapore, the city-state introduced electronic invoicing where suppliers catering to ministries, statutory boards and schools are required to submit invoices electronically.

Malaysia has also made strides in digitalising most of the applications made to public offices.

This includes the MyEG services that render the need for paper redundant for most government services provided to the public.

These efforts have also resulted in a reduction in the processing time of the applications, as well as the speed of implementing initiatives in the neighbouring countries.

Based on The Brunei Times calculation from government figures, the sultanate produces about 92 kilogrammes of paper waste per person in a year, lower than Malaysia with 110kg per person and Singapore with 223kg per person.

However, Brunei has the higher civil servants-to-working population ratio by far between the countries, with more than 1 in 4 or 26 per cent of Bruneian jobs being in the public sector, based on statistics from the Department of Economic Planning and Development (JPKE).

The statistics do not include figures for the RBPF and Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

In contrast, Malaysia’s civil servants accounted for 12 per cent of the labour force and Singapore’s civil servants make up scant four per cent of the labour force.

As the largest employer in the country, how long will it take for the government to go paperless?

The Brunei Times