Blockchain for more transparent public services in Uzbekistan

Digitalization of public services helps to build trust in public institutions, through enhancing transparency and reducing opportunities for corruption and bribery. How blockchain technology is leveraged to enhance and protect data in the digital civil registry of Uzbekistan? Read in the blog co-written by Charlotte Adriaen, Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Uzbekistan and Matilda Dimovska, Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Uzbekistan.

August 26, 2022
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan is in the midst of digitalization process of private and public sectors. A wealth of new digital applications and tools developed domestically and abroad have given citizens effective means to engage in policy making, apply for licenses and permits, obtain legal advice, and report instances of bribery and corruption.

One possible use of digital innovation and particularly blockchain technology is to enhance public trust in government, a matter of vital importance given Uzbekistan’s high levels of perceived corruption. Incorporating blockchain into the unified electronic system of Uzbekistan’s Civil Registry Office is one of the activities of the project ‘Improved public service delivery and enhanced governance in rural Uzbekistan’ (IPSD), funded by the European Union and implemented by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan, with the goal of improving citizens’ lives through making public records more secure and faster to access.

This technology’s well-advised application at government offices of Central Asia’s most dynamically evolving state can enhance standards of life, reduce inequalities, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals on a national level. By gathering international experience and adapting lessons to national circumstances, the IPSD project is helping Uzbekistan’s public services ‘leapfrog’ ahead through applying blockchain in proven directions.

What is blockchain, and how can it help government support citizens?

A simple description of the blockchain is a database, where data is stored in a secure way. This is ensured by linking each new record with the previous one, which results in a chain of data blocks – hence the name! Physically the blockchain database is distributed, which lets authorized users to add data independently. Previously stored data cannot be altered as it breaks the chain and thus makes blockchain a secure and reliable means of keeping digital records in legal and public domains.

Following footsteps of many nations in Europe and beyond, plans are in place to pilot blockchain in Uzbekistan’s Civil Registry, ahead of its introduction at the State Tax Committee and the Ministry of Health. Making their information both more secure and trusted echoes the vision of Uzbekistan’s National Development Strategy 2017-2021, which has the ambition of making citizens enjoy more fulfilling lives.

Using eZAGC (Civil Registry Office)

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

To make sure the benefits of blockchain are sustained over time, and that disparities in service access are narrowed rather than widened, blockchain’s introduction into public service delivery must be gradual and well-strategized. The IPSD project’s research into how blockchain has been introduced into other national governments, and the insights from a related study tour to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, indicate the need to set up a strong legal and policy framework, create required digital infrastructure, and develop digital skills of relevant public officials in Uzbekistan.

The legislative environment for blockchain must support continual innovation and experimentation. UNDP’s research shows that incorporating blockchain into government functions requires legal and regulatory compliance across diverse areas. These include crypto-assets regulation, enforcement of smart contracts, digital identity regulation, data protection, privacy compliance, and data integrity. The need for a policy environment supporting such digital innovation in the public sector has already been outlined in the ‘Digital Uzbekistan Strategy 2030’.

A tech company has been hired to develop a blockchain solution for Uzbekistan’s civil registry office. The necessary technological infrastructure will be installed in 2022, adding to the already-procured network equipment servers. A specialized training will be provided to the office’s nationwide staff.

Learning from previous successes

Creating this foundation for blockchain’s incorporation into Uzbekistan’s public services, and avoiding errors other governments have made, has required drawing considerably on international experience, particularly of EU member states. In November 2021, the IPSD project arranged a study tour to Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg for the officers of the Public Services Agency (now Department of public services of the Ministry of Justice), Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Development of ICT and the State Cadastre of Uzbekistan to learn practical applications of the blockchain technology as part of creating next-generation e-services and e-government.

In Luxembourg, the Uzbek delegation reviewed the application and outcomes of the nation’s TOKEN project (The Changing Impact of Blockchain Technology on Public Services), which explored ways of delivering more transparent, reliable and efficient public services. The tour participants also learned the ways in which blockchain has improved communication between government departments and citizens, reduced bureaucratic barriers, increased public participation, strengthened digital democracy and transparency, and facilitated automation.

International welcome center north in Groningen, the Netherlands

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Beyond blockchain’s application, the Netherlands segment of the tour reviewed the use of other digital solutions by government. The national Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG) has used digital platforms like ‘Open Stad’ to create interactive websites for citizen-led, public space initiatives. This platform, alongside the Hague‘MijnDenHaag’ online portal, which empowers Dutch citizens to improve infrastructure within their communities, could be potentially replicated in Uzbekistan.

Based on the findings and lessons learned from the study visit, the Uzbek delegation has developed a roadmap on further digitalization of Uzbekistan’s public services sector.

Digital solutions to close public service gaps

Integrating blockchain into Uzbekistan’s civil registration system has been a national priority for the past two years. Its application will help to transform online delivery of public services, to the benefit of people nationwide including 15 million citizens living in rural areas, and vulnerable groups (including the elderly, people with disabilities, and women and youth in remote communities).

Beyond introducing blockchain into government services, the EU and UNDP have worked to improve citizen’s lives, particularly through launching new Public Service Centers (PSCs) used as one-stop-shops for government services. These initiatives have reflected the objectives of broader reforms undertaken in Uzbekistan since 2017, which have sought to orient government bodies towards primarily serving people’s needs.

Combined with other public service improvements, and provided it is correctly introduced, blockchain can have tremendous benefits for all citizens of Uzbekistan.