by Venesa Watson
August 30, 2013.
“E-governance is the public sector’s use of information and communication technologies with the aim of improving information and service delivery, encouraging citizen participation in the decision-making process and making government more accountable, transparent and effective. E-governance involves new styles of leadership, new ways of debating and deciding policy and investment, new ways of accessing education, new ways of listening to citizens and new ways of organizing and delivering information and services. E-governance is generally considered as a wider concept than e-government, since it can bring about a change in the way citizens relate to governments and to each other. E-governance can bring forth new concepts of citizenship, both in terms of citizen needs and responsibilities. Its objective is to engage, enable and empower the citizen.” - UNESCO
Following the definition above, one can see where e-governance could improve efficient delivery of government services, boost democracy and improve our governments’ image. But for an e-governance project to be successful, it requires immense support from our governments; i.e. they must make every effort to establish regular use of the service by fulfilling all of its functions, as well as encouraging its use by the public. Since this can be a relatively costly effort, it requires strategic planning and a committed government.
“In Korea, which won the UN’s global e-governance 2010 and 2011 awards, citizens can petition government, complain about government services, pay their taxes and apply for patents online. Businesses can get goods through customs quickly at a lower cost and find all information they need on a single online space” [¹]. By offering the complete process for government services online, the public will be able to access these services 24/7, reducing the bottleneck at tax departments and other such government departments. Aside from the apparent enhancement in efficiency, this move would ease the pressure on the staff at these departments and allow them to spend more time serving the needs of customers who have to come into the physical office. Additionally, it will encourage more citizens to make the effort in paying their dues (tax, bills, etc.), and allow them to be productive with time (travelling and standing in line) they have saved. E-governance could also facilitate a deeper relationship between our governments and the electorates beyond the election season. This e-service has the potential to:
- boost interaction between both parties, by providing a more convenient method for requesting government service (especially in time of disaster);
- supply/provide information to public using a far-reaching, 24/7 channel; and
- make the electorates feel more involved and important, by offering them 24/7 access to their government.
By making the electorate more involved and supplying them with news and information on policies and other government undertakings, there will be greater accountability on our governments’ part--transparency and public confidence will gradually increase. This can also improve our governments’ image in the international arena, increasing our potential for investment and doing business. E-governance could also serve as the gateway for other e-services: our governments’ efforts to support e-governance would fuel the need to make ICTs more widely available to all, and would encourage a spirit of e-service usage (citizens would become used to the idea of using e-services to carry-out tasks, which would make introducing and promoting new e-services smoother).
Since its creation in 2003, the United Nations Public Administration Programme (UNPAP) has released a number of publications on e-government development around the world, with a ranking of each nation using an E-Government Readiness Index (EGDI). The EGDI is a “composite measure of the capacity and willingness of countries to use e-government for ICT-led development” which “… looks at the most important dimensions of e-government: (i) scope and quality of online services, (ii) telecommunication connectivity, and (iii) human capacity”. Also taken into account are each country’s infrastructure availability, size, ICT penetration, and the level of education [²]. The results (see the line graph below) show that the region has seen remarkable growth when comparing its average EDGI for 2003 to that for 2012, as we are now above the world’s average, but still a long way from the world leader, the Republic of Korea with an EGDI of 0.9283.
The low value for 2013 is not solely due to poor e-readiness, as nine (9) of the fifteen Caribbean nations had an EGDI above the world average in that year - the low EDGI is attributed to the lack of online presence of Dominica and Suriname (2003), and Haiti (2003 - 2005). Barbados has been the region’s leader since 2008, and along with Antigua and Barbuda, has seen the greatest growth in the region - the former moving from a world rank of 76 in 2003 to 44 in 2012, and the latter moving from 92 in 2003 to 49 in 2012. “The national site of Barbados offered a user friendly approach of “channels” such as the Government Channel, Citizens & Residents Channel, Businesses Channel, etc., making it easier for the user to find relevant information. Moving towards transactional offerings, it allowed for calculation of land taxes. Improvements in online offerings along with investments in telecommunications and human capital allowed Antigua and Barbuda to advance to a world ranking of 49th in 2012. Similarly, in Dominica and in Grenada, substantial investments in access infrastructure, especially broadband, contributed to an advance in world rankings.” [³].
Although the region has seen a satisfactory progress in our e-readiness for e-governance, the bulk of our e-governance efforts have been in the form of debates and public administration reformation efforts for far too long. There are many other services that can to be digitized, so that our progress can be felt across the public and private sector. Social inclusion, transparency and e-democracy are other areas that need to be tackled. More action on the part of our governments is essential to see this e-service come to life - an abundance of potential continues to await the region!
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