Virtual revolution

Can technology bring better government? Education, healthcare and employment take precedence for most citizens over the simple question of whether they can email their senator or member of parliament. But government websites have changed from simply being static showcases to providing a virtual kiosk of essential government services.

While a huge part of what governments are expected to post is simple information – who, what, where and how – posting election and tax information, health alerts, even traffic ticketing, can open bureaucratic doors to more direct participation. For example, the audiovisual system introduced by the Swiss Parliament has increased public access to political debates, while providing up-to-date online interactive information and data.

According to The e-Government Imperative, policymakers need to respond to citizens’ demands for more transparency, easier handling of red tape and actually conducting business on-line, whether it be receiving legislative updates, filing tax returns or applying for a business license. Besides, it can save them money. An e-procurement system adopted in 2000 by the Italian government led to a 30% reduction in the total cost of procured goods and services. In Germany, the electronic processing of education loans repayments introduced by the government brought €4.5 million in savings in the first year of operations.

The e-Government Imperative encourages the use of the Internet as an instrument to improve government structures and processes and to foster the culture and values of public administrations. As for the submission of forms containing sensitive information, progress is under way: as of 2002, 26 of the 30 OECD countries had passed legislation recognising digital signatures. While some worry that the technology may erode privacy, others point out the challenge of keeping up with quick-changing technology. The decisions taken today commit administrations to a future that may be unpredictable. Errors are costly both on a financial level, and in terms of losing the trust of citizens and businesses, The e-Government Imperative warns. Still, as the title suggests, governments can no longer shirk the demand for transparency, and will have to manage change responsibly, while maintaining that public confidence. More e-government can help them to achieve this.

©OECD Observer No 238, July 2003




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