E-government/E-Government and Human Development

How do ICTs facilitate good governance? edit

ICT is an enabler of efficient and effective functioning of government. In turn, a more efficient functioning of government allows for improved and better governance.

Box 10. Argentina’s Cristal Government Initiative: Public Funds Information on Demand19

The mission of Argentina’s Cristal government initiative is to disseminate online, and in an easily understood format, all information concerning the use of public funds. This includes information not only about the amounts of money devoted to different programs, but also how these funds are administered.

The Cristal Web site was specifically created to fulfill the mandate of a law that requires that the State make available “to whatever institution or interested person” the following information related to the administration of public funds:

  • execution of budgets, to the lowest level of disaggregation;
  • purchase orders and public contracts;
  • financial and employment data concerning permanent and contracted staff;
  • an account of the public debt, including terms, guarantees, interest costs, etc.; outstanding tax and customs obligations of Argentine companies and people;
  • regulations governing the provision of public services; and
  • all information necessary for the communitary control of social expenditures.

A primary goal of the Cristal program is to create a better informed citizenry that can exercise more effective control over their political representatives. While the content of the Web site is directed to all citizens, journalists are a particularly important audience of the site, as newspapers and television enable a much wider dissemination of its contents.

What are the implications of equality of access to government information and services? edit

The implementation of e-government facilitates citizen participation in governance by increasing access channels to government. It broadens opportunities for citizen participation, opening new channels of communication between constituents and their representatives and bringing marginal groups (i.e., women, physically challenged, indigenous peoples) into mainstream participatory channels.

But just as e-government initiatives have the potential to democratize the delivery of basic services and “level” the effects of development, these same initiatives can also further distance citizens from government and even deepen existing disenfranchisement. Policy-makers, in trying to achieve development goals through e-government, should consider projects that would deliver the most benefits to the broadest number of people.

What is digital democracy? edit

Digital democracy is a term used when the use of information and communications technology enhances citizen participation in the democratic process. It is the computerization of political discourse, policy-making and the political process with the end in view of increasing, enhancing, and deepening citizen participation in the policy- and decision-making processes of government through a spectrum of activities—electoral campaigns, voting, consultation and participation in the policy process, public opinion polling, and communication exchange between elected officials and constituents.

While opportunities are increasing for citizens to be more actively involved in the policy-making and decision-making process, much of government decision-making is still hidden from the wider public. ICT integration in government processes facilitates greater openness, transparency, and accountability. As more information is given to the public, greater citizen engagement in the overall policy process is considered as necessary as greater accountability for public officials.

Box 11. Online Assembly: Virtual March on Washington20

On the 26th of February 2003, an advocacy event was spearheaded by the Win Without War Coalition to get individuals across the United States to direct a steady stream of phone calls, emails, and faxes to the White House and to every Senator with the following message: DON’T ATTACK IRAQ.”We will let our fingers do the marching and demand that our voices be heard,” said Tom Andrews, the national director for Win Without War, the group that organized the protest. Andrews said about 400,000 people had registered through the group’s Web site for the call-in campaign. “Well over 1 million phone calls were made in just eight hours by people from every state in the country” on Wednesday, he said. “Every senator’s office and the White House switchboard received at least two and often more calls per minute.”

In what ways can e-government enhance digital democracy? edit

Improving access to public information and services. Government carries the burden and responsibility of ensuring that citizens, communities, businesses, and civil society are equipped with complete information so that they can make timely and appropriate life decisions.

Through ICTs—broadly defined to include television, radio and telephones—the public can more easily access information and services. By providing the public with details of government activities and providing them with venues to actively participate in these activities, e-government compels officials to be more transparent and accountable for their actions and decisions, as well as to improve not only the delivery of services but also the quality of these services.

Box 12. Access To Information And Services: Online Delivery of Land Titles in Karnataka, India21

The Department of Revenue in Karnataka has computerized 20 million records of land ownership of 6.7 million farmers in the state. Previously, farmers had to seek out the Village Accountant to get a copy of the Record of Rights, Tenancy and Crops (RTC), a document needed for many tasks such as obtaining bank loans. There were often delays and harassment. Bribes had to be paid. Today, for a fee of Rs.15, a printed copy of the RTC can be obtained online at computerized land record kiosks (called Bhoomi centers) in 140 taluk offices. In the next phase, all the taluk databases are to be uploaded to a Web-enabled central database. RTCs would then be available online at Internet kiosks, which are likely to be set up in rural areas.

Enhancing political participation. ICTs have made it possible for citizens around the world to be included in the policy process, to have their voices heard, to participate in the policy development process, and ultimately, to influence decision-making. ICTs have opened numerous channels of participation not usually open or available to the broader public. Many instances around the world today have shown the potential of ICTs to change society through the participation of a wide variety of people from various social and cultural backgrounds, social strata, and religious beliefs.

Box 13. Technology and Grassroots Politics22

Technology is energizing grassroots politics of all stripes: call it powering up. In the Philippines, protesters using cell-phone text messaging mobilized hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in January 2001 to help oust President Joseph Estrada. Miguel Arroyo, husband of new President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, says her supporters kept urging everyone to head to the Edsa shrine, the main focus of the People Power II movement. “We texted everybody to go running there: ‘edsa. edsa: everybody converge on edsa!’” In China, tens of thousands of followers of the spiritual group Falun Gong continue to exist—despite a harsh crackdown—in a vibrant community fed by the Web and encrypted text messaging. Last November, after learning from foreign news sites of the arrival of the first American President since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of citizens lined the streets of Hanoi to welcome Bill Clinton despite a state information blackout.

Technology is tilting the balance of political power away from government and toward the individual. Multinational interest groups like Greenpeace and anti-globalism protesters can promote their aims and coordinate world campaigns instantly. Dissidents, rebels and terrorists can publicize, organize and attack in virtual territory beyond state control and reach wide audiences without trusting their message to the filter of the media.

Governments still dominate the political equation, of course. But online activists are chipping away at their grip on power, adding a new voice to debates that often can’t be ignored. In foreign policy, unsanctioned cyber wars like the U.S.-China dustup are increasingly common during times of international tension. In 1999, hackers in China and Taiwan exchanged cyber fire over then President Lee Teng-hui’s claim of statehood, as did Indonesian nationalists and supporters of independence for East Timor.

In the end, it’s difficult to regulate access to technology or its use. The nature of the Internet— borderless, fast, atomized, anonymous—works against the state’s traditional grip on power.

Engendering women empowerment. Governments must pay special attention to providing women not only with access to information technology (IT), but also with IT training and education. ICTs are particularly useful for giving voice to women in developing countries who traditionally are isolated, invisible and silent. It presents new opportunities for women to improve their lives, economically, politically and socially.

e-Government can provide marketing and promotion services for women’s businesses such as handicrafts, garments and traditional arts. Female farmers can increase their productivity and profits with access to information on improved agricultural inputs, weather, markets, new production techniques and farming technologies.23 In addition, policies that increase women’s access to credit contribute significantly to poverty alleviation.

e-Government can also be used to strengthen women’s participation in the political process, help women exercise their fundamental rights, improve the performance of elected women officials, strengthen advocacy of women’s issues, and disseminate knowledge.24 Providing channels for participation in policy-making that targets women’s concerns is a critical component of e-government.

Finally, women in developing countries want to rise above poverty, disenfranchisement and marginalization. While ICTs may not be a panacea, various e-government projects, such as health and agricultural portals, give women a chance to improve their lives.

Box 14. Improving Service Delivery To Women Through ICT: The Women’s Services Portal in British Columbia, Canada

To improve service delivery to women, the Government of British Columbia has created a portal dedicated to delivering services for women. The women’s services site (http://www.cserv.gov.bc.ca/womens_services/links/index.htm) is embedded within the British Columbia government portal called “BC Connects” (http://www.gov.bc.ca).

This Web site provides information, government assistance and training to women in general, as well as to aboriginal, immigrant and minority women living in the province of British Columbia. The services include application for business loans and childcare subsidy, employment preparation training, job matching, health information services, and counseling and legal aid.