Israeli Government Plans Major New Digital Drive, if Unions Don’t Block It

Core of proposal would create personal zone for individuals and businesses and cut red tape of multiple form filling

Sivan Klingbail
Amitai Ziv
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A queue outside Israel's Interior Ministry, in Tel Aviv.
A queue outside Israel's Interior Ministry, in Tel Aviv.Credit: Dudu Bachar
Sivan Klingbail
Amitai Ziv

You’re moving to a new home? On top of the usual task of packing and moving, buying new appliances and furniture, and decorating, you also will have to deal with quite a few government bodies before you can settle in – the Interior Ministry, National Insurance Institute, Israel Tax Authority, the local authority as well as the state-owned water and power companies.

Each of them has their own website with their own online forms. If it isn’t quite as difficult as it was in the past, when you had to physically go these offices, in the year 2020 it’s a waste of time.

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Strangely enough, even though Israel calls itself the “startup nation,” there is no centralized system for government and public services. That places a huge bureaucratic burden on the consumers and businesses, which is reflected in Israel’s low score in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business world rankings. Today it is 35th, a big jump from 49th the year before, but still not enough.

A report by the state comptroller released earlier this year rued the cost of excessive regulation and bureaucracy. It estimated that if it could be reduced by 30%, it would add 58 billion shekels ($16.2 billion) to the economy. It also blamed red tape in part for Israel’s high cost of living.

Self-employed Isrelis experienced this problem recently when they had to wait until a dedicated website for the “coronavirus grant” was up and running, so they could fill out the forms – even though they had already supplied the same information in the past to the tax authority.

However, the crisis may have a positive effect. Officials are now preparing a draft proposal for a dramatic leap in the level of government digital services. The idea is that within 90 to 180 days after a decision is taken to do so, the government will offer a single personal zone where government services can be accessed in a uniform way.

The goal is to have a website version ready by the middle of this year and a mobile app by the middle of 2021.

The change would be more than a technological one, and entail a major change in bureaucratic processes. Rather than arranging them around specific purposes, such as moving a home, giving birth or opening a business, they would be arranged around the person or business making the change. Among other things, it would allow government bodies to digitize processes quickly and efficiently without the usual red tape involved.

In addition, it calls for a “government information highway” in which all ministry directors general will be able to easily share the information they have in their databases. For example, the Transportation Ministry data on car registrations, traffic violations and disabled privileges; the tax authority on incomes; and the Education Ministry data on the number of years of education and matriculation (bagrut) scores.

A big obstacle to the plan is the public sector labor unions. For years they have conditioned the introduction of advanced digital services on their getting compensation.

In a four-year struggle that only ended in 2014, workers at the property registration office demanded a 15% pay supplement for their consent to computerize records. In the end, an arbitrator awarded them a one-time 30,000-shekel payout.

Since then, demands like that have become routine for the unions, said officials. Thus, in 2017 some 700 employees of the Population and Immigration Authority got pay raises of between 500 and 833 shekels a month in exchange for agreeing to new technology being introduced in the agency.

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadut labor federation, said unions support the use of new technology. He said, however, that new technology can’t come at the expense of workers. A government employee who is already earning low pay shouldn’t be denied a pay hike of a few-hundred shekels when more digitization is introduced.

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