ICT (Information and Communications Technology) is a big topic these days in development forums. From the UN to economic indicators and annual reports, everyone stresses the obligation states have to secure and consolidate their place in the digital world. After all, whether a nation’s economy and progress is heavily controlled by its ruling institutions or left, albeit regulated, in the hands of private enterprise, the onus oftentimes falls on its government to set the stage or craft the ideal conditions. ICT is no exception to this norm where the most successful competitors are those who were sagacious enough to seize the initiative.
The matter of E-Government
What is it and why is it useful to us? Well, it’s not just merely upgrading the equipment of a government office from file cabinets to computers but also the act of bringing administrative procedures and services into a new digital existence. What results is an outcome that may cause many citizens to fall on their knees in jubilation as they thank the divine, particularly given the sluggishly slow and torpid nature of our bureaucracies. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for a simple matter of renewing a permit, filing some paperwork or ordinarily going through the system’s red tape to become a ‘whole day’ affair.
With the right implementation, many routine procedures, services and administrative functions can be enacted with less cost, fewer resources and far greater convenience. Consider an interlinked database for example, where citizens have their profiles containing basic data. This would alleviate the repetitious need to provide the exact same details to every different service or ministry. This could potentially bypass mounds of paperwork and expedite the time-consuming procedure of processing it. Some services could be rendered online entirely whilst others such as a permit renewal could be initiated online and merely picked up after.
No doubt the state setting the example would not only nudge others in the same direction but may mandate it if they wish to benefit from the added convenience and cost-effectiveness. This will eventually greatly improve our Ease of Business rankings, particularly for investors, foreign specialists who wish to get a work permit or smaller firms. In fact, a lack of proper data keeping and painfully stagnant, bloated bureaucracy has been cited as one of our major competitive setbacks not just in ease of business but also our WEC Competitiveness Report summary. The existence of a hassle-free process to invest or set up business here would prevent many lost opportunities currently suffered.
Additionally, given our problems with corruption, would it not be a godsend to experience a higher degree of transparency and accountability as a direct result of having a system where state acts are recorded and shared via a network of systems? Perhaps, under such circumstances, we may scarcely hear of huge sums of money having vanished with nothing but shredded papers and dead ends to serve as a trail. If a transaction or recorded act disappears from one location it would still be available in the other.
However, we’re obligated to mention potential disadvantages. A digital system can be compromised and havoc wrought once this happens, making the most modern security measures tantamount to its dependability. Secondly, digitization would save money and resources but would also reduce the need for a number of state worker roles. Given that the state is one of the biggest employers and is looked to in continuing this trend, such an eventuality may not sit well with many. Do the pros outweigh the cons then?