Burmese Government Goes Digital


01 December, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

The government in Burma carries out much of its business the same way it has for years. It uses large books to record marriages, business taxes and even official documents between government agencies. But this paper-based system is going away, as ministries make the move to computers.

Myint Kyaw is head of the information department in Burma's Ministry of the Information. He is responsible for the program that aims to bring all 36 ministries online by 2015. Under the plan, each ministry will have its own web-portal and administrative software programs.

Burmese Government Goes Digital
FILE - People use the use computers at an internet cafe in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 21, 2011.

Myint Kyaw says social networks like Facebook will make it easier for government officials to connect with the public.

"So many people from our country use Facebook, very easy way to get information. To put the more information they can distribute, they can contribute personal information and organizational information." he said.

Facebook is the most widely used tool for communicating online in Burma. Only about one percent of Burma's population has an internet connection, but most of those users are believed to have Facebook accounts.

This year, only an American-based group Freedom House described the Internet in Burma as "not free". It noted barriers to availability and poor infrastructure as major problems. However, restrictions have been eased on many websites that formerly will blocked, and the most severe sentence for a violation of the electronic transactions act has been reduced from 15 to 7 years. Yet observers say Burmese officials still have a long way to go to create a free Internet environment.

Nay Phone Latt is a blogger and former political prisoner. He once was charged with crimes under the electronic transactions act. Now that he is free, he is advising the government on its communication policies. He says the government is now using the Internet to ask the public for comments, a big change from even a few years ago.

"In the earlier days, the government think they are in the higher ranks and they can decide everything; they don't need [the] people's advice...actually in a democratic society the key player is not only the government," he said.

Internet service first came to Burma in 2000, at first it was offered only to the military. Service expanded slowly and remained much too costly for most Burmese. But now people are using smartphones to go online, that helps to explain the recent jump in the number of Internet users.

And that is the Technology Report from VOA Special English. I'm June Simms.