GOVERNMENT USE OF ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGIES SPREADING
WIDELY BUT UNEVENLY, SAYS UNITED NATIONS REPORT
Potential for Improving Practice of Public Administration Stressed
MEXICO CITY, 4 November -- A United Nations report released today suggests that “online government” -- highly touted at the onset of the Internet revolution -- has slipped somewhat from public attention since the end of the “dot-com” boom and since international security concerns heightened after September 2001.
At the launching of the report in Mexico City, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, José Antonio Ocampo, spoke of the role of the Internet in the overall practice of public administration.
He was speaking at the fifth global forum on reinventing government, co-hosted by the United Nations and the Government of Mexico.
Despite any diminished attention to the Internet, the report states, governments have nevertheless been scrambling to install “e-capabilities”, with the number using Internet services in some capacity or another increasing from 143 United Nations Member States in 2001 to 173 currently.
The document -- the United Nations World Public Sector Report 2003: E-Government at the Crossroads -- notes that e-government in particular, and adoption of information and communication technologies in general, have become part of the political agenda of many countries in both the developing and developed world. However, its growth has not gone entirely smoothly.
While sweeping vision can propel digital development, a too-grandiose approach may result in failures or expensive “white elephants”, the report states, and despite the Internet’s reputation for economy of operation, new systems can be costly. Because of a high rate of failure of specific e-government projects in developed, as well as developing, countries, bricks-and-mortar public services need to be maintained even as digital applications are increasing, the report cautions.
In most countries, only about one in five of those with Internet access engages in government online, the authors estimate. Security and privacy issues can discourage use. The report expresses particular concern about lack of access by women and by the poor and other disadvantaged groups, and the United Nations Millennium Declaration campaign for reducing poverty and meeting basic human needs is suggested as a framework for e-government prioritization.
The United Nations study presents, for the first time, rankings on a national and regional basis in two major categories: e-readiness (provision of government services and products online combined with the extent of telecom infrastructure and public education in the country) and e-participation (the degree to which government opens itself to interaction with its citizens over the Internet). The United States and several Scandinavian countries are high among the leaders in e-readiness, but three developing countries -- Singapore, Republic of Korea and Chile -- are among the top 25.
In the category of e-participation, the United Kingdom edges out the United States for first place, and three of the top 10 governments are from developing countries -- Chile, Mexico and Argentina. After the top-ranked 15 countries, the level of e-participation afforded declines steeply, and only 15 governments allow online services for comment on policy issues.
“Many governments turn to Internet-based services as a way to cut red tape or to spread digital infrastructure”, said Under-Secretary-General Ocampo. “But we also see the Internet as a means of advancing and consolidating transparency and democracy into the overall practice of public administration. For that reason, we attach great importance to the category of ‘e-participation’ in our global survey and analysis.”
The United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs provides technical assistance to developing and transition countries through its Division for Public Administration and Development Management, the sponsor of the United Nations World Public Sector Report 2003. The launch of the document, coinciding with the fifth global forum, comes two months before the World Summit on an Information Society, which will take on similar issues related to e-governance, transparency, freedom of information and bringing down the digital divide. The summit, organized by the United Nations, takes place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December.
For more information, contact: Tim Wall, tel: 1-212-963-5851, Edoardo Bellando, tel: 1-212-963-8275, or Haiyan Qian, tel: 1-212-963-3393, at the United Nations in New York; or Juan Miguel Diez of the United Nations Information Centre in Mexico City, tel: 52-55-5203-9406 or 52-55-5263-9717.
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