What Is e-Government?

Governments from all over the globe are embracing electronic government. In both developing countries and industrialized countries governments are putting critical information online, automating typical “red tape” processes and interacting electronically with their citizens.

This enthusiasm comes in part from a belief that technology can boost government’s image. In many countries, citizens view their governments as ineffective, wasteful, and unresponsive to their most pressing needs. Mistrust of governments is rife. Civil servants are often seen as nothing more than your average pen pusher.

However, the spread of information and communication technology brings hope that governments can transform. And, fortunately, pro-active officials everywhere are using technology to improve their governments. Defined broadly, e-government is the use of information and communication technology to promote more efficient and effective government, facilitate more accessible government services, allow greater public access to information, and make government more accountable to citizens.

E-government might involve delivering services via the Internet, telephone, community centers, wireless devices or other communications systems. Information and technology communication therefore offer governments the possibility to render services in ways that are unimaginable without technological intervention. Services can be rendered on a 24-hour basis thus offering citizens a choice as to when and how they intend to interact with government. Traditionally there has been limited time available to deal with government within the confines of office hours and buildings. With e-government, this constraint can once and for all be eliminated.

But, be warned, e-government is not a shortcut to economic development, budget savings or clean, efficient government. E-government is not a single once off event that immediately and forever alters the image or being of government. E-government is a process and often a struggle that presents costs and risks, both financial and political. These risks can be significant.

The demands on government service delivery today require the constant investigation and implementation of innovative mechanisms to deliver public services. Citizens are continuously demanding more convenient and cost-effective means and channels through which they can access government service delivery. This in part, is due to the fact that citizens are accustomed to convenient channels when dealing with business and they are therefore justified in asking the question whether government cannot use the same channels and means to deliver services.

This challenge is being posed to governments throughout the world irrespective of the developmental state of the country. If not well conceived and implemented, e-government initiatives can waste resources, fail in their promise to deliver useful services and thus increase public frustration with government. Particularly in the developing world, where resources are scarce, e-government must target areas with high chances for success and produce “winners.”

Big investment capital would and should be available which in turn makes corruption and misappropriation of funds a stark risk and reality – remember e-government as mentioned earlier is inter alia to regain confidence in government and its administrative machinery. Moreover, e-government in the developing world must accommodate certain unique conditions, needs and obstacles. These may include a continuing oral tradition, lack of infrastructure, corruption, weak educational systems and unequal access to technology. Too often, the lack of resources and technology is compounded by a lack of access to expertise and information.

Electronic government is neither easy nor cheap. Before committing the time, resources and political will necessary to successfully implement an e-government initiative, understand the basic reasons for pursuing (and not pursuing) e-government. E-government is not a shortcut to economic development, budget savings or clean, efficient government; it is a tool for achieving these goals. Especially in developing countries where resources are scarce, rushing forward with ill-conceived e-government plans can be a costly mistake, financially and politically. It is on record that governments even lost elections due to ill-conceived and ill-managed plans to implement e-government.

Because every society has different needs and priorities, there is not a universal model for e-government and no universal standard for e-government readiness. Each country’s readiness for e-government will depend upon which objectives and specific sectors it chooses as priorities, as well as the resources available at a given point in time.

The objectives or benefits of e-government are universal and although the list is virtually endless, the following objectives or benefits are the most common:

o improving services to citizens;

o improving the productivity (and efficiency) of government agencies;

o strengthening the legal system and law enforcement;

o promoting priority economic sectors;

o improving the quality of life for disadvantaged communities; and

o strengthening good governance and broadening public participation.

E-government is a process that requires a sustained commitment of political will, resources and engagement among the government, private and public sectors. The power and promise of e-government are open to all, in both the developing and industrialized world.