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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Sunday Akin Olukoju
November 25, 2014
How do we know the future we want, and how are we sure it is the right thing to desire? These are tough questions begging for answers. It forces us to reflect on the past in order to dream of the desired future. The United Nations General Assembly’s resolution came up with “The Future We Want,” and it reaffirmed the need for “promoting sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth, creating greater opportunities for all, reducing inequalities, raising basic standards of living, fostering equitable social development and inclusion and promoting the integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems.”
The United Nations E-Government Survey 2014 quickly adds that “E-government and innovation can provide significant opportunities to transform public administration into an instrument of sustainable development.” Engagement and empowerment of ordinary citizens are the main reasons for e-governance, especially through the “opportunities offered by the digital development of recent years, whether through online services, big data, social media, mobile apps or cloud computing,” and it “includes electronic interactions of three types—government-to-government (G2G), government-to-business (G2B) and government-to-consumer (G2C).”
The U.N. survey also affirms that “through innovation and e-government, public administrations around the world can be more efficient, provide better services and respond to demands for transparency and accountability.” In fact, it convincingly asserts that “ICTs have also proven to be effective platforms to facilitate knowledge sharing, skills development, transfer of innovative e-government solutions and capacity-building for sustainable development among countries.” As of 2014, all 193 member states have national websites.
If the benefits of e-government are so many, why are the U.S. and Canada not ranked among the best three world leaders with very high E-Government Development Index (EGDI)? Why is the U.S. ranked seventh and Canada a distant 11th?
In fact, the U.S. dropped from its previous fifth ranking in 2012. “In terms of democracy, e-governance has proceeded more slowly, with the prominent exception of political campaigns and e-voting,” according to Sharon Dawes in a 2008 Public Administration Review article titled “The Evolution and Continuing Challenges of E-Governance.” Dawes also noted that “although there is great potential for citizen and civil society engagement, as well as for public consultation and political discourse, relatively few state and local jurisdictions have adopted or promoted these aspects of e-governance.”
So, why is e-government not deployed for public consultation and political discourse to make necessary gains? What can states and local jurisdictions do to attract more users?
“What is needed is partnership and legitimacy and an explicit promotion of social welfare, linked to effective monitoring, accountability and support,” according to Diego Navarra and Tony Cornford, in a 2012 Information Society article titled “The State and Democracy After New Public Management: Exploring Alternative Models of E-Governance.” “They are advocating the “development of a system architecture that is flexible, interoperable, compatible, ubiquitous, and able to integrate across legacy systems while combining many previously unrelated resources”; as well as “promotion within the bureaucratic tradition of a degree of flexibility that can allow improvisation and innovation so as to serve the emergence of more democratic forms of governance, which sustains a citizenship that is both voluntary and disciplined.”
While the development of system architecture will be a highly capital-intensive venture, the promotion of a flexible bureaucratic tradition will certainly require a strong political will. The state of readiness of users is an important factor in the equation. “In addition, gender egalitarianism, institutional collectivism, performance orientation, and uncertainty avoidance values,” according to Omar Khalil, in a 2011 Government Information Quarterly article titled “e-Government readiness: Does national culture matter?” “Were found to be key determinants of e-Government readiness,” said Khalil and research findings “provide a foundation for culturally-based policies and strategies aiming at enhancing e-Government readiness across nations.” Both systems and human factors are highly important.
Appropriate deployment of e-governance will usher in an era of efficient service, speedy delivery, cost reduction, citizenship satisfaction, especially if they able to monitor progress and predict delivery time line. It will promote transparency and build a reliable trust between government and citizens and openness, especially when information and government programs are digitized, particularly in the area of procurement and tender for contracts.
According to Luminita Ionescu, in a 2013 Economics, Management and Financial Markets Journal article titled “The impact that e-government can have on reducing corruption and enhancing transparency,” “converge with prior research on the potential of ICT for enhancing social capital and anticorruption, the innovative use of information technology to prevent and control corruption in public procurement, the use of public e-procurement system for reducing the risk of corruption, and e-procurement systems as a key tool to reduce the corruption by opening competition in government procurement processes to the public.” No wonder Michael Geist lambasted Canada’s e-government steady decline in ranking despite the “round-the-clock access” it offers to “Canadian businesses and citizens.” Citing the auditor general in a study by Treasury Board and Employment and Social Development Canada,” Geist revealed “that the cost of an in-person transaction was $28.80 compared to only 13 cents for the online equivalent,” and that “online transactions [are] 50 times cheaper than in-person services.”
Although the fear of hacking or security breaches is real, particularly given the sudden hacking of The City of Ottawa and Ottawa Police Service websites, it is heartening to know that “no data was lost or breached” after the websites hacking. The academy is also pioneering partnership exemplified in the University of Regina-Cisco partnership that is researching “how governments can use technology to drive collaboration and productivity.” The partnership is driven by the desire to make “government data publicly available through open data portals so developers can create new apps, encouraging public servants to make better use of social media to communicate with each other and letting residents use social media to communicate with the governments.”
Cisco Canada President Nitin Kawale said, “The ability of networked technologies, video and the Internet to improve communication and transactional capacities are key processes of public sector modernization” and that “Government must enhance their networking capacity and adapt to virtual environments and the transformative power of video.” The march to the desired future starts with every cent invested in, and every partnership forged to ensure a reliable, secure, cost-effective, efficient and user-friendly interactive e-governance that is open, transparent and easily accessible.
Author: Sunday Akin Olukoju, Ph.D. is the president of Canadian Center for Global Studies, a nonprofit organization, and also teaches at Athabasca University in Alberta Canada.