Want to kvetch? Israel just made it easier

As part of a special initiative launched by the Prime Minister’s Office, gov.il was officially launched to make it easier to apply for permits and submit complaints at some government ministries.

November 10, 2017 00:44
3 minute read.
Eli Groner

Eli Groner, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, unveils the government’s online portal at the Citizen 360 conference in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: GIDEON SHARON / GPO)

The government just made it easier to complain about an incompetent clerk at a public agency, get a new passport, renew a driver’s license or apply for a construction permit.

As part of a special initiative launched by the Prime Minister’s Office, gov.il – an online government portal that has been available in beta version for some time – was officially launched on Wednesday to make it easier to apply for permits and submit complaints at some of the 29 government ministries. It is available in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

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With the increased accessibility of advanced biometric verification tools, such as facial recognition and fingerprint readers, it is possible to definitely establish your identity online without having to go somewhere in person. This allows more government offices to put registration forms and applications on the Web, allowing you to pay fees online, book an appointment, and whisk in and out of government and other public offices without the frequently long wait.

“You’ll get cellphone alerts that you have two weeks to renew your driver license,” director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eli Groner, told The Jerusalem Post. “This is about providing better digital services to Israeli citizens.

Because if I know with 100% certainty that you’re who you say you are, there’s no reason you need to spend four hours in line waiting at the [doctor’s office].”

The Prime Minister’s Office is also in the process of taking all government databases and putting them online at data.gov.il, a project the cabinet approved a year and a half ago, which will cost tens of millions of shekels.

The success of Moovit – an Israeli public transit app which displayed arrival and departure times several years ahead of Google Maps – convinced Groner that making big data available for budding entrepreneurs to crunch numbers could spawn countless innovations.

“Very often, you can take government databases [and upload them], and governments, like everyone, are resistant to string their data. But it’s important to remember that the data belongs to the public,” Groner said. “Imagine that we make publicly available all the crime information that the Israeli police has. You could look up in each neighborhood when each crime happened and how often. The police have these databases and no matter how talented our police are, they won’t have the collective intellectual horsepower that society has.”

Some 1,100 databases are slated to be put into public hands – for enterprising Israelis to take the information and create more apps like Moovit – by 2022. Already, at least 500 databases have already gone online.

Aside from crime data, other data sets that could be put online include a registrar of every patented invention, high-resolution photographs, live pollution data and traffic accidents. Groner said he also wanted to upload the location of every construction site, each school’s annual budget and the site of each gas station.

“Think of what people can do when they see how much the country is investing... You’ll have much better public monitoring of government services,” Groner said.

In terms of the quantity of publicly accessible data that will soon be available, “we’re not just catching up to the United States, we’re leap-frogging them. It’s something that’s not paralleled by any country in the world,” Groner said.

“That doesn’t mean that Israelis won’t continue to complain. Of course they’ll continue to complain.”

Groner added that the online services to streamline bureaucracy would pertain mostly to Israeli citizens, as opposed to Arab residents of east Jerusalem or Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet a quick search on the site did list forms for Palestinians to apply for work permits in Israeli industrial zones.

The Prime Minister’s Office cited the online databases as a way of making Israel even more competitive, as the country is already ranked 16th in the world as far as ease of doing business, according to the World Economic Forum.

But according to the World Bank, the Jewish state has slipped in business rankings, falling to 54th place for 2017, a far cry from its perch at 29th place in 2009.

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