3 noiembrie 2007

eGovernment and Digital Divide

One of my first papers on eGovernment was published in the year 2000 and was called “eGovernment between fashion and necessity”.
Many ideas are still valid:
• eGovernment programs are launched with much publicity and public attention
• There is a relation between the success of a eGovernment program and Digital Divide status of the country
• An expensive eGovernment program in a country with poor Internet & ICT infrastructure may bring a waste of valuable resources
• Mentalities and lack of ICT training could a serious barrier
The conclusion was then, however, optimistic: do not delay eGovernment programs; they contribute to the spread of ICT and Internet, including to the change o mentalities.
The practice of 2 Romanian eGovernment initiatives proved later that I was right.
• The payment of local taxes over Internet was a good eGovernment application, but rarely used as most taxpayers had no Internet access and bank cards at that time.
• eProcurement made compulsory for several public acquisitions contributed a lot to the spread of Internet use in small and medium enterprises.
In fact, eGovernment programs have to take into account not only the needs and interests of the public administration. The priorities have to be set according to the acceptance potential of the country.
In my intervention at the previous GPPC2005, I set what I consider to be the 4 pillars of bridging Digital Divide:
• Appropriate ICT Infrastructure
• Accessible and Affordable Internet Access
• Generalized Ability to Use ICT
• Availability of Useful Content
Any country’s position regarding the first 3 pillars is of paramount importance in setting eGovernment for success. The 4th pillar is just consolidated by eGovernment programs adding useful content to country’s knowledge base.
The relationship between the success of implementation of eGovernment programs and the Digital Divide status of the country brings us to the conclusion that the imitation of eGovernment programs of ICT developed countries is useless and brings waste of resources.
The first 2 pillars are already a preoccupation for most countries, and unfortunately the metrics of Digital Divide is limited to these 2 aspects: appropriate ICT infrastructure and accessible and affordable Internet Access.
But in my opinion, eGovernment programs in most countries, except a few situated in the front line of ICT use, have to accompanied by extensive programs of education of citizens in the use of ICT, what is called in Europe eInclusion. Without generalized ability to use ICT, the information society and its part eGovernment will not be for all, but only for elite.
A program for the certification of these abilities was launched in Europe by CEPIS and is now spreading on many continents. ECDL/ICDL certifies that a person has the minimal abilities to use present ICT applications and the certificate is issued with uniform tests to insure the international recognition of the certificate. The first targets are public administration, university graduates and high-school graduates.
The spread of such training programs in the public administration units is a necessary condition for the success of eGovernment applications. These people are required to develop and operate them.
On the other hand, ICT education can help the access to eGovernment applications of several categories of citizens like people in rural areas, old people, people with disabilities, etc.
And finally a last but not least criteria to be added on check-list of priorities for launching eGovernment programs.
eGovernment may have a contribution to the improvement of our environment.
• Trees are cut to produce paper and paper is extensible used in not-eGovernment applications. Extending eGovernment less trees will be cut and our life will be better.
• Traffic became unbearable in many cities of the world. If the citizen will interact with local and central administration by Internet and not by car or bus or train, our air will be cleaner and again the life better. So, let us “Crowd the net and free the roads”.
To conclude let us come back to the first remark; eGovernment is a fashion or a necessity? Definitely, it a necessity but its implementation should be done taking into account local ICT readiness conditions and accompanied by complementary education programs of both public servants and citizens.

Prepared for WITSA GPPC 2007 Cairo eGovernment Panel 6 November 2007

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