Muscat Municipality reaches out to users

Muscat Municipality is planning to transform the city’s internet cafes into payment centres as it looks to generate support for its online services among businesses and individuals.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  September 5, 2002

|~||~||~|Muscat Municipality is planning to transform the city’s internet cafes into payment centres as it looks to generate support for its online services among businesses and individuals.

“We’re looking to provide channels to the public,” comments Yaqoob Al Bulushi, director of information systems, Muscat Municipality.

“That is what we are doing with the internet cafes, because they already have an infrastructure, they are familiar with the internet and they only had one service, which was internet access. Now they will be able to add another service and help people to use [the municipality’s] services,” he explains.

Due to the low rate of credit card penetration within the Sultanate, the municipality is hoping to use internet cafes proprietors as money middlemen. The initiative would require cafe owners depositing money with Muscat Municipality, and then recuperating it from customers when they renew a license or pay a tax or fine over the web. Cafe owners will be issued with a secure user ID and password to enable them to log into the municipality’s systems over the internet and conduct the transactions.

“Despite our development work on a online payment mechanism, we know that the public isn’t ready for credit cards, so we are talking to the internet cafe [owners] to see if they will act as an outlet for Muscat Municipality,” says Al Bulushi.

“When a citizen wants to renew a service, they go to the cafe and the owner basically renews it on their behalf and then charges them for the service. With the price of internet connections coming down, the internet cafes are looking for different ways to add value — offering payment services could be a way of doing that,” he adds.

Currently, the municipality has formed a discussion forum with local internet cafes to “see what issues and concerns they have about the system,” explains Al Bulushi.
By getting the city’s internet cafes to sign on as payment providers, the municipality will also be able to extend its operating hours well into the evening.

“We realise that the web is a better way of offering services, it extends our reach and makes us more available… We’re looking to form partnerships with the public sector to help provide these channels,” comments Al Bulushi.

The municipality’s work to extend its web channel isn’t the only e-government initiative within Oman. A centralised e-government taskforce has been working to develop a strategy for an e-Oman over the last 12 months. Rather than wait for the rest of government to develop its own strategy, the municipality wanted to start offering its own services.

“We could gain experience with the internet and learn from our mistakes,” says Al Bulushi. “We must become a service provider to the citizen so we started out with our own e-[services],” he adds.
Muscat Municipality has also entered into a partnership with Oman TradaNet (OTN) to build an online supplier community and streamline its supply chain. Since December, OTN has succeeded in encouraging approximately 100 suppliers towards the online system.

“Many [suppliers] are using the OTN platform to quote from. It is not what we originally thought of as system-to-system communication… this is more like web-to-system communication. However, at least they are coming online to offer quotes to... and, after all, change takes time,” says Al Bulushi.||**||

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