According to Chinese state media, the province of Zhejiang in China is piloting a national plan, to make government services more easily accessible to the public and corporates and reduce excess red tape. The pilot was initiated in Zhejiang in February 2017.
The reform is leveraging the vast existing subscriber base of the online payment platform, Alipay, to facilitate payments. Alipay, owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., is the largest mobile payments platform in the world, with over 400 million users and a nearly 50% market share in China.
As part of the scheme, titled "At Most One Visit", several government departments are being integrated and placed under one roof at new administrative service centers throughout the province. It aims to ensure that if you have to visit a government office for a certain transaction, you only do it once.
Services ranging from social security payments and births, deaths, and marriage certificates to travel permits to Hong Kong and Macao and company registrations can now all be processed in one place.
The news report demonstrates the utility of the scheme by talking about its impact on the time-consuming and complicated procedures of exchanging contracts when buying a house. In the county of Changxing, the process which previously took a matter of weeks and included visits to the Department of Land and Resources, the Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, and the Provincial Tax Bureau, can now be done at the county's newly-built Administrative Service Center. The entire process can be completed in less than an hour if all of the correct documents are supplied.
Zhejiang, known for its entrepreneurship (Alibaba, founded and headquartered in the capital Hangzhou, is probably the most well-known success story) and industries, is one of the richest provinces in China in terms of GDP per capita. One of the objectives of the plan is to improve the investment environment by making processes such as applying for tax credit or renewing a business license much simpler.
Online service platforms, and mobile apps form a key element of this initiative to streamline administrative procedures for people and businesses, providing more flexible and efficient services and reducing costs.
The report in China Daily quoted Dong Jihong, head of the administrative reform department of Zhejiang, highlighting a rapid uptake of the digital services introduced. Since the introduction of a mobile app and website for tax declaration on March 1, over 90% of people are dealing with their tax affairs online.
As of March, 59 provincial departments had simplified 958 services. Each city and county-level department has streamlined 1,002 and 862 services, respectively on average. Zhejiang officials plan to simplify and move over 80% of Zhejiang's civic services online by the end of 2017.
As more and more government services move online, people with limited access or ability to use technology will not be left behind and staff members will continue to be available for help when required.
There remain challenges which need to be addressed. Greater cooperation is required in sharing data. Majority of "At Most One Visit" procedures still require more than one visit. And more guidance has to provided to people on how to use the system in the best possible way.