Pushing the Envelope on eGovernment - dot-GOV

One could argue that bureaucracy has been the oldest “vice” of everyday life. Throughout the ages, people and their governments have struggled to find an easy, cheap, and effective way to run the country. eGovernment, however, is changing the very nature of government interaction with citizens.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to drastically change this interaction by making systems more integrated, transparent, and efficient. eGovernment can also make the quality of government service much higher, and end the days of “paper pushers” in favor of people who have the time to focus on clients, not numbers. Most importantly, it can build democratic interactions simplifying the communication cycle.

eGovernment has the potential to enable citizens to access government services and information as efficiently and as effectively as possible through the use of Internet and other channels of communication. It helps governments reform ICT policies, and plays a key role in market liberalization through the use of tools such as e-signatures, e-transactions, licensing, and cyber crime legislation. Promotion of transparent and competitive ICT markets translates into demand for policies that also enable the use of eGovernment strategies, services, and solutions to improve government efficiency and effectiveness. A competitive ICT market is a key factor in eGovernment applications and the formation of public-private partnerships to implement eGovernment tools. eGovernment has proven to promote good governance practices.

Governments across nations are coming to grasps with the importance of eGovernment development. However, they continue to struggle with age-old challenges to any kind of reform: the best way to fund strategy development and infrastructure; how to involve stakeholders in the process; and how to pull all of these components into a feasible and cohesive national strategy. Developing countries’ greatest hurdle still remains the gap in funding these vital reforms. This is where USAID can have the greatest impact on social and economic development through government reform.

The USAID funded ROMANIAN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE: POLICY (RITI), implemented by Internews, shows the importance that telecommunications liberalization plays in eGovernment development. This project initially aimed at creating a collaborative but independent relationship with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and a newly formed regulatory agency, ANRC, to liberalize the telecommunications market. By the end of the project in 2005, the competitive market that was partially facilitated by RITI policy recommendations has led to a wider emphasis on eGovernment projects on a central and local level. Governments have turned to private co operations to form private-public partnerships to implement projects.

Recently, the progress of not only Romania but also the surrounding Eastern and Central European region was showcased in an eGovernment Conference (eGEEC) in Sinaia, Romania, 12-13 September 2005. The conference shared e-government concepts, best practices, and implementation techniques for effective e-government and sources of funding at the local municipal level.

Participants in the eGovernment Eastern European Conference in September 2005.

Both public and private sector delegates discussed the successful implementation of local e- government initiatives in the Eastern European region. eGEEC participants gained valuable knowledge that allowed them to immediately identify, develop, and finance e-government projects upon the return to their own countries. Most importantly, this conference created relationships among participants and established a network of colleagues and partners to help implement e- government projects.

Topics raised indicated strategic approaches used toward implementing eGovernment solutions, ones that are flexible enough to grow and change in tune with the rest of the national government. Participants at the eGEEC discussed essential components for eGovernment projects to successfully operate, such as having a National Strategy that is incorporated into general ICT strategies across all levels of government, the essential collaboration with civilian society and private sectors, and complete interrelation with other government agencies and sectors.

Today the eGovernment trend is truly global. It is a vital part of modernization and democratization of any government, and crucial for development. In Africa, eGovernment allows governments to leapfrog years of development challenges and to cut across all major government and business sectors. Kenya and Madagascar have been on the cutting edge of developing eGovernment strategies to increase transparency and communication with citizens, advance a more democratic government, and create opportunities for economic growth.

The Kenyan Government is keen to promote openness within the citizens through eGovernment. It has taken the initiative to fund the design and development of an eGovernment Strategy as an acknowledgement of the need to improve communication within the Government, between Government and Business, and between Government and citizens. The majority of Kenyans have taken an active role of demanding transparency from their government, especially in issues such as government procurement, where the majority of corruption allegation cases involving the Government of Kenya (GOK) have been reported. E-government is likely to receive a positive reaction from the Kenyans as a recognizable means of the GOK to increase transparency and communications with the citizens. Developing eGovernment will make the Kenyan Government more result- and citizen-oriented and efficient.

GOK has begun the process of liberalizing telecommunication services in Kenya that will greatly facilitate eGovernment. This is a major opportunity that will positively impact eGovernment, as a competitive and reliable ICT service sector is key to supporting eGovernment (with software solutions, trainers, equipment, etc). Just as in the Romanian case, the liberalization of telecommunication services has a positive impact on citizens, where ICT and telecommunications services become cheaper and ubiquitous. Proper implementation of eGovernment, in collaboration with private companies, could transform the image of the Kenyan Government and lead to wide acceptance by citizens. This would lead to increased eCommerce as GOK embraces technology and creates an environment for increased trade with the local and international private sector.

Just as the Kenyan Government, the Malagasy Government is keen to utilize eGovernment as a tool for addressing corruption issues inherited from the former regime. A top priority is addressing voter registration corruption where thousands of voters were missing on the voters’ register in the 2002 elections. The Ministry of Interior is modernizing electoral lists by creating an electronic voters register that cannot be disputed to ensure that all citizens have the right to vote in the 2007 elections and that their names will not be missing on the electoral lists.

Madagascar has over two million people without birth certificates or identity cards. They are unaccounted for and the Ministry of Interior is developing an electronic system that will facilitate issuance of identity cards and birth certificates to the two million Malagasy.

The Government is funding various community public access points to address citizens’ ability to communicate with the Government.

It is often difficult to see how ICT and e-Governance creates an open society. However, the connection exists and it is undeniable. By fostering ICT reforms, Eastern Europe has successfully opened up its markets and established a competitive ICT sector. This has led to increased entrepreneurship, ownership, and accountability in the government process.

The future of eGovernment is twofold. First, eGovernment itself is becoming a constant of life everywhere that engages people in their government to a level never before seen. Secondly, this new “constant” could be a great resource tool that works with the interlinking of regions, so that interoperability increases economic and social wellbeing. eGovernment truly fosters open information in at every level of society: local, regional, and global. It is critical for African countries as well to look to countries that have transitioned from a system of lingering bureaucracy and corruption and are well on the way to truly open governance, both digitally and on the ground.

For More Information, Contact:
Sarah Tisch, Ph.D.
Chief-of-Party, dot-GOV
Internews Network
Tel: 202 833-5740 x 203

Laura Samotshozo
DOT-COM Project Manager, EGAT/I&E/ICT
United States Agency for International Development
Tel: 202 712-4562

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