E-Government – Towards a Digital Single Market

Government by ICT – e-government is becoming increasingly popular around the world. Photo: alexis.mons on flickrThe whole world is undergoing a recession which is making us rethink our social, economic and political strategies in order to adapt to the new situation. The crisis made us realize how interconnected our world is, reaching all levels of societies. Our society is a knowledge-based one, and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the base of this knowledge-based world. It allows us to instantly receive and share ideas, services, and technologies wherever they are located in the world. But its use does not have to be limited to private or business use; it can also be extended to the public sector. E-government is a new concept, developed in the early 2000s, that tries to make a connection between a government and its citizens. Now, more than ever, governments must foster this idea in order to take globalization to the next level.

E-government has been defined in a variety of different ways by many organizations, but it all comes down to the same idea: use ICT to improve the delivery of government services. The Working Group on E-Government in the Developing World defines e-government as: “the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) 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.” This concept is the most high-profile application of all ICT, and governments, both from developed and developing countries, increase spending in this field. 

Europe is the main investor in e-government applications, ahead most of other sectors (see Figure 1). But it is not only developed countries that have joined this project, in fact a number of developing countries have out-performed the industrialized world, bringing growth through technology. Although South Korea is regarded as the leader in e-governance, large developing countries like China and India are making tremendous progress. So why is e-government important for today’s world?

ICT expenditure in Europe by Sector, 2006.

There are many different reasons to support the e-government initiative, one of them being the progress and growth of the developing countries, but arguably the most important reason is that it enhances democracy. ICT brings empowerment to citizens and holds governments accountable by making public all their available information. According to a World Bank’s report, public service users consider transactional efficiency, reduced corruption, and better quality of service as the main gains from e-government programs. But the advantages do not only go to citizens and users, they also benefit governments. While the financial crisis is forcing the creation of ideas to save costs and reduce spending budgets, e-government offers a reduction in transaction costs and an increase of government revenues. One example is the e-custom system in Ghana (GCNet), which increased custom revenues by 49% during its first eighteen months of operation. Another example of improved governance is the case of India, where e-governance has reduced the need to pay bribes in order to get the certain services delivered faster.

In our digitalized world, we can find tools anywhere to help us improve our lives. If citizens and businesses are using ICT, why shouldn’t government do so as well? As citizens, we expect more from services than we did in the past- we demand higher quality, less costs, more sustainable activities, and immediate information. With tightening budgets and many other challenges ahead, governments may find e-government not only a solution to their problems but also a way to come closer to their citizens. This proposal offers just that, and progress around the world is being made. The only resistance is the inertia policy makers and societies have in order to change. Commitment and encouragement from our political leaders is needed, who see the benefits that e-government can bring them by globally integrating public services. Previously, we were aiming towards a Single Market, but now, to paraphrase Neelie Kroes Vice President of The European Commission, we must aim towards a Digital Single Market.

 

CHRISTINA HÅKANSSON