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E-Government, the use of information communication technology in the public sector, not only enables access for the poor but also helps reduce the cost of access for both the citizens and the Government. OECD defines e-Government to be “the use of ICTs, and particularly the Internet, as a tool to achieve better government” (OECD 2003) . It provides incentive for the usage of ICTs by the public hence increases the overall usage and kick-starts the virtuous cycle of positive network effects. “E-government is a powerful tool for human development and essential to the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals including the Millennium Development Goals” (UN 2010) . According to World Bank “E-Government refers to the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as Wide Area Networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other arms of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.”
Government adoption phases
There are different models of e-Government adoption proposed by different researchers however, Gartner Group’s four phase model (Baum and DiMaio 2000) is most widely used. This model classifies e-government services offered online into four evolutionary phases:
1. Publishing (web presence)
3. Transacting, and
Publishing is the earliest stage where static information about the agency mission, services, phone numbers and agency address are provided for further communication. In Interacting phase the website’s features are further enhanced with search capabilities and intentions-based programmes. Transacting represents a full-featured online service that allows users to conduct and complete entire tasks online. Transforming is considered to be the long-term goal of almost all e-Government services. In this stage all information systems are integrated and services can be obtained at one virtual centre.
Adoption of e-Government
As set out in the previous section, the benefits of ICT adoption are numerous and wide-spread. E-Government has the potential for alleviating many ills of the governance and poverty. It is surprising then that the Governments of developing countries make little efforts towards adopting ICTs in their governance systems. Literature discusses the adoption of new policies and looks either at the way legislators seek to enforce adoption among bureaucrats (e.g. Waterman and Meier 1998; Selden et al 1999) or at the way in which central government actors seek to enforce adoption among actors at lower levels of government (Weissert 2001; May and Winter 2009).
One main model used has been that of principal and agent. Politicians-as-principals seek to have their policies implemented by bureaucrats-as-agents. Both politicians and bureaucrats being economic rational actors, act in their own self-interest; often assumed to be vote-maximisation for politicians and budget-maximisation for bureaucrats (Waterman and Meier 1998). However, this literature presents the Western, or the developed world view where policy priorities are determined and pursued by politicians. This is contrary to the developing world where post colonial bureaucracies “spoon-feed” the politicians with policy prescriptions. Therefore, the importance of bureaucracies in such environment increases manifolds. Therefore no real breakthrough in adoption of ICTs is possible without the support and commitment of bureaucracies in developing countries.
(Imran 2006) , in his case study of Bangladesh, looked at critical issues for successful adoption of e-government in Bangladesh. He found that a lack of fundamental knowledge and awareness of the strategic use and implications of ICT systems for government business processes was a major barrier to e-government adoption (Imran, 2006). This lack of knowledge underpinned a range of other barriers such as poor infrastructure, low socio-economic conditions and lack of leadership. His research shows that fostering knowledge about the benefits of ICT can help boost its adoption.
The second significant barrier that Imran (2009) identified is that of the entrenched attitude of bureaucrats (and politicians) towards ICTs adoption. Imran says that there is adequate money to roll out the technology and infrastructure required for intra-government information systems. So poverty is not a significant hurdle preventing ICT take up in Bangladesh. “It’s the not the infrastructure, it’s not the political leadership – it is the knowledge where the problem lies. Knowledge and attitude are highly correlated. When you develop your knowledge base, automatically mindset and attitude change too.” “ICT is not considered as a strategic tool in many developing countries...... There is also a fear that digital systems will undermine established bureaucratic hierarchies, taking power away from officials and making many more people out of job. One government official said: ‘People come to me because I have the file here. If I give away everything then nobody will come to me and I will be redundant.’ He feels threatened and powerless.”
E-Government Adoption in Pakistan
In 2008, the United Nations issued e-Government Readiness Ranking using measures of human capacity, infrastructure and access to information and knowledge. Pakistan ranked 131st i.e. pretty much at the bottom. In the following years, regional countries like Bangladesh and Iran improved their rankings, While Pakistan went down to 146th place in the 2010 e-Government Development Rankings of the UN and slipped further down to 156th place in the 2012 UN e-Government Index. In the 2009 E-Readiness Ranking of the Economist Intelligence Unit, Pakistan ranked 66th out of 70 countries assessed.
The IT Policy issued in 2000 by Government of Pakistan envisaged the establishment of an Electronic Government Directorate. Federal Government also issued an E-Government Strategy and 5-Year Plan for the Federal Government. However, much of the targets set out in the above documents remain distant dreams and most of the public business in Pakistan continues to be managed with non-electronic Victorian-era bureaucracy. The seriousness of the Government in the e-Government can be gauged from the fact that the “National e-Government Council” headed by the Prime Minister, which must meet every six month by the virtue of e-Government Strategy, has not met even once since the current ruling party took over in 2008. One does see, however, some serious efforts on the part of Provincial Government of Punjab to utilise ICTs in their governance mechanisms. They have transferred vehicle registration and tax payment system online, and have recently launched electronic access to land revenue record, and are also working on electronic fleet management and ticketing system for buses operated by Punjab Government. So some e-Government projects of the Government of Punjab have progressed to the transacting phase of Gartner adoption model. Government of Sindh has recently launched a limited version of vehicle registration information system, where you cannot pay taxes online but can obtain registration information so it is at interacting phase. e-FBR (Electronic Federal Board of Revenue) project which digitised the Federal Government’s tax collection system is one of the early e-Government projects that went up to the phase interacting. Ironically, the website of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) that claims to be the biggest IT based public organisation of the country does not provide services beyond the information phase which is where most of the Government websites are. With a few exceptions the introduction of computers has only replaced type-writers and no improvement in businesses processes and thus in the quality of service to the citizens have been witnessed. The unavailability of open access to vital public records such as land records also provides opportunity to officials to indulge in corruption. That is one of the major reasons why Land Revenue Administration departments of the country were ranked the most corrupt by the National Corruption Perception Survey 2011(Transparency International Pakistan 2011).
It is of vital importance for the development of Pakistan to invest in adoption of e-Government so that citizens can be given more participation in how service provision to them is managed. Pakistan is geographically huge and diverse with limited traditional transport infrastructure that people have to use to travel to public offices, whereas, the ICT infrastructure of the country is one of the best in the region, and can be effectively utilised for provision of e-Government services. E-Government therefore, has the potential of saving millions of lost productive hours every day, besides offering a possible solution to Pakistan’s chronic governance issues characterised by corruption, lack of transparency, and absence of public participation. It will indeed go a long way in strengthening democracy and promoting democratic values as well. Given the current state of affairs, I think the most appropriate way to give a boost to the e-Government adoption is for the civil society organisations, international donors, and ICT related government agencies to lobby with the parliament to introduce legislation mandating compulsory gradual migration to web within a stipulated time period. If the real benefits of e-Government are to be achieved, this migration needs to be real paradigm shift in the way Government delivers its services, mere digitising the manual procedures won’t help. Therefore, the proposed legislation must ensure that such migration to online platforms happens through and is maintained by full public participation employing consultative approach.