During the previous mandate, the Ministry of Interior instructed their technical officers to develop a programme for digitally managing and providing services at the One Window Service Office (OWSO).

In collaboration with private companies, ministry technicians developed a new IT system for online services in mid-2023, which was recently announced for pilot launch by current interior minister Sar Sokha.

Some capital and provincial OWSOs are currently piloting the provision of administrative services online, aiming to increase public awareness about using the new system to request support.

On February 8, the ministry unveiled a trial of online functions at the OWSO.

The initiative enables people to access and apply for services from anywhere, saving time and money by eliminating the need to visit the office in person.

Lim Eimaeng, chief of the Battambang provincial OWSO, remarks that offering administration online requires people to travel to the office only once to receive results, avoiding the time and expense of multiple trips. 

He acknowledges that initial implementation posed some challenges, noting that the provincial branch experienced inconveniences due to system instability. However, he says the issues were resolved within half a month with the support of the ministry’s technical team.

Eimaeng adds that to facilitate smoother application of the system, he plans to further educate local residents, helping them understand that applying online is easier and faster than visiting the OWSO in person.

“In my opinion, if individuals find that applying online takes less time than doing so in person, they won’t be averse to the method. They’ll definitely return to the OWSO to apply for the online service,” he states.

Eimaeng confirms plans to hold a closed-door meeting with the technical officers involved to prepare for enhanced and swifter service delivery. At the same time, he says efforts would be made to inform relevant departments and units to further disseminate information to the public. 

He acknowledges the challenges in shifting people’s habits from traditional methods to this new, modern system.

Eimaeng expresses optimism, however, noting that the increasing number of people applying for online support indicated some success in the pilot implementation of the initiative, despite the currently modest number of users.

“Individuals have the option to apply for services online or visit the OWSO in person. However, there are times when we must nudge them, regardless of their initial preference. If we don’t encourage this shift, they may never make the transition,” he explains.

“We aim to help them develop a habit of using these services. For example, they were initially hesitant, but after a gentle push from us, they discovered it was more convenient. As a result, they are now more likely to utilise the service in the future,” he adds.

Adjusting to the new system

Ung Ty, head of the Kampong Cham provincial OWSO, says that since its implementation, there have been about 60 applications at the branch. 

He notes that online support poses challenges for the elderly, and that in some areas, inadequate internet service necessitates people travelling to the office in person. 

However, he highlights that some citizens have praised the introduction of the online request system.

“They are happy because it saves them time, eliminates the need to travel long distances and eases the process of paying service fees, which they can now do through the bank. It’s convenient,” he says.

Ty adds that continuous awareness among citizens has been raised through the outreach efforts of volunteers and professional officers, who explain how to use the application. Besides professional officers educating locals about the OWSO, student volunteers also assist people in learning to apply for the service.

“People understand quite well, but some are still adjusting to the new application. They are either sticking to old habits or relying on children to apply for the online support,” he says.

He notes that the ministry is currently piloting the programme in four main sectors: industry, science, technology and innovation; agriculture, forestry and fisheries; culture and fine arts; and tourism.

Srun Srey Neang, head of the Preah Sihanouk provincial branch, says the ministry announced the implementation on February 8 but the system had not been operational until February 26, as training had not yet been conducted. 

She notes that instruction commenced on February 22 in eight provinces, including Preah Sihanouk, following the initial training in Phnom Penh and three provincial capitals: Kandal, Battambang and Kampong Cham. 

Following the training, she said the Preah Sihanouk office had begun providing online processing from March 1.

Speaking at the launch ceremony of the initiative, Sokha highlighted that the pilot implementation of the new system marks another achievement of the government’s decentralisation and deconcentration reforms. 

He said they aim to continue strengthening and improving the quality and efficiency of public services, especially through digital systems that offer faster, more transparent and higher-quality governance.

“The online administrative service at the OWSO of the capital and provincial administrations, which we are officially launching now, represents a progressive contribution to the implementation of the 5th priority policy of government’s Pentagonal Strategy on digital technology. This focuses on the construction and development of digital infrastructure,” he stated.

Chhort Bunthong, head of the Culture, Education and Tourist Relations Department at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, noted that the pilot implementation aligns with current advancements in information technology. 

He said the initiative would lead to quicker service delivery and aid in reducing corruption. 

“Although the assistance provider does not meet the recipient in person, the digital system facilitates an experience as if they were interacting face-to-face. Secondly, the recipient benefits from faster service, lower costs and less time spent, so overall, we can consider that this also contributes to reducing barriers,” he said.

Bunthong, who specialises in philosophy, stated that this development is also conducive to the provision of public services by authorities at all levels.

He said it aligns closely with practices in other countries in the region and the wider world, considering the current prevalence of online financial administration, online shopping and virtual meetings. 

He added the move would enable the nation to function similarly to countries that are technologically advanced.

According to Bunthong, while the elderly may find it challenging to adapt to or integrate the new technology, young and middle-aged individuals are likely keeping pace. 

Especially in recent times, information technology has developed considerably, and the Covid-19 crisis also provided an opportunity to encourage people to use digital resources for study, work, business and other forms of communication.

“I think there may be some obstacles for the elderly, but for those in middle age and adolescence, it is not difficult. However, the format for providing online services should be simple,” he says.

A boost for the private sector

Leang Leng, owner of a namesake enterprise producing various sauces, expresses that providing digital administration is highly beneficial, offering greater assistance to people and the private sector compared to previous methods. In the past, applying for registration support was complex and time-consuming.

Leng mentions that he has not yet applied for access but acknowledges that other countries have been implementing similar functions for many years.

“If it is realised, I foresee it bringing positive results for both the public and private sector. It will simplify processes that are currently difficult, like various registrations and document submissions, which are complicated and involve long queues and technical complexities,” he says.

A resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says he had attempted to register online by opening the link online.owso.gov.kh and following the instructions, noting that after successful registration, verification from a professional officer was required.

He confirmed registering on February 26 but was informed by the system that he couldn’t apply for services until February 28 as his information hadn’t yet been verified.

“On the online registration screen, it says, ‘Your account is waiting for verification from a representative, which will take at least three working days. We will notify you via phone or email’. I waited until the third day and did not see any verification. It would have been easier for me to get there in person,” he says.

Ty of the Kampong Cham provincial OWSO says the interior ministry, along with each OWSO, has a team of technicians to respond when people register or apply for services. He notes that because the programme is new and being tested, there may be some difficulties. 

In the case of problems, he suggests people call the office directly via 010 933 333 or 086 879 882.

Pa Chanroeun, president of the Cambodian Institute for Democracy, commends the ministry’s initiative in piloting the programme. 

He says the system aligns with government policies aimed at enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of services for the people in the context of the current digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0.