Is e-government a bad idea?
Bahrain’s e-gov services are the most advanced in the region. But as other Arab states play catch up, some say this digital revolution makes life harder for the public, and that millions of dollars are wasted on expensive IT systems.
March 28, 2010 10:46 by kippreport
But not all initiatives in the region are this developed, and not everyone shares the enthusiasm for greater connectedness between citizens and government via the internet. According to a report by Arab Advisors Group, 12 Arab countries had e-government portals at the close of last year, but the quality of services varies widely.
And while proponents tout cost savings, detractors are asking the same question in reverse: are the costs justified?
For about a decade, the business of selling technology to government has come increasingly into the public awareness. According to analysis by the Economist last year, a lot of money is spent on e-government infrastructure, with questionable returns.
“So far… the story of e-government has been one of quantity, not quality. It has provided plenty of reason for skepticism and not much cause for enthusiasm,” said the Economist.
“Whereas e-commerce has been a spectacular success… e-government has yet to transform public administration. Indeed, its most conspicuous feature has been a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money on big computer systems, poorly thought out and overpriced,” the report added.
From high profile projects that were scrapped, budgets being exceeded by millions of dollars, to the exclusion of survey participants who are not internet-savvy – the report looks at the challenges to realizing a return on investment in e-government.
“Putting public services online is no use to those who cannot afford a computer or will have nothing to do with technology. The phrase ‘look on our website’ is a turn-off for a significant chunk of most countries’ population,” the report suggests.
Other concerns include the loss of public sector jobs, a greater government presence in our private lives, and the frightening spectre of trying to rectify computer mistakes.
“When a computer insists that you owe the government money, your car is illegally parked or you do not exist, unscrambling the problem is much harder,” the report contends.
As regional governments look to bolster their online services, they will hopefully follow both the successes, and learn from the failures, of similar initiatives worldwide.
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