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Global e-government 28 August
Wednesday, August 28 2002
by Matthew Clark

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New UN report is highly critical of e-government | Congress to consider a bill that will speed up e-government deployment in the US

A report from the United Nations released earlier this month was highly critical of e-government rollout around the world. The report, released by the UN Division for Public Economics and Public Administration, said that across the UN's 190 member states, e-government might become ineffective, mainly due to a lack of co-ordination. According to the UN report, less than 10 percent of member states offer their citizens the ability to conduct transactions on-line. Almost 17 percent of on-line governments have what the UN described as a minimal Internet presence.

The report sent mixed signals, in so far as it admitted that e-government would eventually transform the way people are governed and the way civil servants do their job. But it also said that it may turn out to be more costly than traditional government and pointed out that user interest in e-government is generally low around the world.

Ireland, however, fared well in the report and was ranked 23rd on the UN's list of nations with high access to e-government services. The Republic scored a rating of 2.16, with the global average at 1.62. In its introduction, the report thanked the Department of the Taoiseach for helping to complete the research. In the report, Ireland was praised for its Revenue On-Line Service as well as for its single portal for government access, www.irlgov.ie. The US topped the list overall, followed by Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Norway.

New research from IT services company Parity Group said that most members of the UK's Parliament correspond with constituents via e-mail. However, the report said that although 25 percent of MPs receive more than 25 e-mails per week, the majority of them continue to respond by post. Additionally, the survey revealed that although IT training is available to Parliament members, only one-third of Parliamentary Assistants say that their MP would benefit from the coaching.

According to a survey by Siemens Communications, over 70 percent of local authorities in the UK are working together to achieve their e-government targets. The survey showed that 92 percent of the authorities were "totally committed" to achieving delivery by 2005 -- the UK's deadline for full e-government implementation -- although more than half confessed to only being at the planning and analysis stage. Additionally, the survey reported that pioneers of e-government are likely to set a standard for others to follow, as 87 percent of UK authorities polled said they would be looking to existing systems already in operation.

A recent report on Kablenet.com said that a UK general election involving e-voting would be a "significant and attractive" target for hackers and "malicious actions." Citing the e-voting security study carried out by the government's Communications Electronics Security Group (CESG), Kablenet said that a national election -- which by its very nature would be a big event -- would present an attractive target for malicious actions. "An on-line voting system would need to win public confidence, which could easily be undermined by an election-day horror story," the CESG report said.

The South African government said this month that it plans to use the Net to provide citizens with access to government services and information. A "concept document" developed by the Department of Public Service and Administration in that country says that eventually the government would like to let South Africans pay bills, register for school, file taxes, apply for passports and file police reports over the Internet. This massive undertaking should be up and running in three years, the document said. A rollout of Web-enabled kiosks to remote or disadvantaged communities will be part of the plan.

In Israel, citizens can now renew licences and pay fines over the Internet thanks to progress in the government's plans to computerise its offices. The first stage of the country's e-government plan is to create a system called Gov@net, an intranet that links all departments. The next stage of its plan, called Merkava, will computerise most government offices, using SAP-supplied technology. Among the early services available to Israelis through the country's e-government system are payments of fines, taxes and VAT, as well the ability to renew licences for firearms and driving.

The US Congress will consider a bill next month that is set to speed up the deployment of e-government infrastructure. The so-called Nationwide Infrastructure Financing for E-Governance Transactions at Educational Institutions legislation is designed to introduce funding and power to help state and local governments acquire broadband network capacity, hardware and software to deliver e-government services to citizens.

E-mail filtering software is starting to be used by US Congressional offices, which are currently deluged by e-mail from constituents. It is estimated that Congressional offices received 320,000 e-mails a day on average last year, according to the Congress Online Project. Members of the House of Representatives saw their e-mail go up by 78 percent over 2000, while Senate offices saw their e-mail intake increase by 22 percent. This year, however, e-mail growth has slowed to 2.5 percent for House members, thanks to the deployment of the new software. However, in the Senate, which has been slower to deploy such services, e-mail has increased 24 percent in 2002.

Many US states and local authorities are launching a litany of new e-government plans. The city of New Berlin, Wisconsin is in the midst of overhauling its Web site as part of a larger e-government plan that will outfit local stores and banks with kiosks where citizens can get information on city meetings and development issues.

Meanwhile, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, city officials are in the process of constructing a "Virtual City Hall." Already the government's Web site can allow builders to apply for permits on-line, and other new features include tax information, city job applications, parks registration and water bill payments. Similarly, Boynton Beach, Florida residents are now able to pay their bills on the Web. A third e-commerce plan has kicked off in West Virginia, where the government has launched an on-line system that lets outdoors sports enthusiasts and hunters obtain hunting and fishing licences over the Web using their credit cards. Terminals have been placed in retail shops as part of the plan.

South Dakota has launched a Web site where residents can access nearly all of the state's forms -- over 1,100 -- on the Web. Meanwhile, in St Peters, Missouri, city aldermen will receive laptops in order to convert meetings to completely paperless events. Also, in California's Nevada County and in the cities of Bakersfield and Davis, citizens can now pay county taxes, access housing regulation, and apply for building permits over the Internet.



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