United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) coordinates the economic and social work of the United Nations and the UN family of organizations. As the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues and for formulating policy recommendations, it plays a key role in fostering international cooperation for development. As one of its important area of work, it also examines the role of e-Government as one component of a knowledge system and a tool for meeting public sector reform and good governance objectives. Recently at WSIS Tunis, UNDESA with World Bank and others announced the launch of an International Task Force for e-Government Collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In an exclusive interview with egov, Richard Kerby, Interregional Adviser on e-Government Knowledge Management Branch, Division for Public Administration and Development Management, UNDESA (www.un.org/esa/desa) tells us about the focus and future plans of UNDESA in e-Government.
How is UNDESA focusing on e-Governance?
One of our flagship products is the UNDESA e-Government Readiness Index and the E-participation Index. The e-Government Readiness Index is composed of the Web Measure, Telecommunications Index and the Human Capacity Index, which measure the online availability of information and services. The e-participation index, which measures how relevant and useful these features are from the point of view of the citizens. These two products are an annual participation ranking of all the countries from best to not so good in terms of the access and relevance to the services for the citizens.
In addition, UNDESA does a great deal of capacity building through workshops and seminars aimed at training and assisting governments to become more efficient and transparent. UNDESA helps governments in developing and implement their national e-Government policies and methodologies. UNDESA provides expertise and consultants to assist government in preparing an inventory of existing e-government tools, services and assets then, uses this expertise to work with government to produce a project document that will bridge the existing digital gaps and develop a plan of action that will meet those objectives.
The UNDESA e-Government Compendium Portal, which is in the process of completion, will provide a forum and allow access to best practices and adaptable e-services and e-application worldwide. There will be a pre-screening and confirmation process to ensure that these are really best practices and are able to be transferred to governments in search of new ways of doing business.
Which are the regions of your focus?
Our focus is global. UNDESA focuses Africa, Latin America, Middle-east, Southern Asia, essentially all the regions that have developing and emerging countries. Specifically under capacity building programme, we are working in Africa with Mozambique, Tunisia, and Morocco. In Caribbean, we are working with Belize, Jamaica, St. Lucia and St. Vincent, Jamaica. We are currently looking for opportunities in Asia and are planning to work the e-Government leaders in the Asia to develop best practices that could be shared and implemented as seamlessly as possible.
What are going to be the objectives of the recently launched ‘International Task Force on Latin America and Caribbean’?
One of the goals of this partnership is to allow the institutions like Development Gateway foundation, Inter-American Development Bank, Organization of American States, UNDESA and the World Bank to work closer together, sharing expertise and resources. One of the criticisms that all international institutions have heard is that we do not cooperate very well and essentially duplicate efforts done in the region. This is wasteful and not very productive. In effect, the five institutions implement a number of similar projects, workshops and seminar. For example, one institution might be developing one capacity building project in one country, while another institution is developing a similar capacity building project in a neighboring countries with little interaction among the institutions or countries.
With this partnership in place, if a country makes a request to any one of the five institutions, all the institutions will be aware of it and we can work together to one common goal to better assist the country. Therefore, the partnership gives an integrated approach and solution e-government problems in the region. It also gives access to five different sources of information and expertise. We should bear in mind that each institution has its own capacity, expertise, knowledge and information, which now can be shared in a more efficient manner.
What is the future plan of UNDESA in e-Government?
We are planning to create a model of partnership similar to one created in Latin America and the Caribbean in Asia, Africa and Middle-East, where we can bring different institutions together and build synergies and partnerships. We have learnt that one institution cannot everything by itself and by working together with other institutions that complement each other one can increase the impact on a much greater scale.
How is UNDESA helping in transfer of learning experiences of countries ahead in e-Governance to countries, which are not?
We conduct workshops that particularly showcase successful e-policies, e-applications and e-services that are useful and adaptable. In addition, UNDESA is always in search of new e-policies, e-application and e-services that will continue to keep us on the cutting edge of e-Government solutions. Once these best practices have been identified, UNDESA tries to ensure their adaptability to the culture of the country. For example, a great e-application or e-service could be developed in the Republic of Korea that could be used in Jamaica, Burkina Faso or Bhutan.
How are countries in Latin America and Caribbean faring?
In Latin America, there are five countries, which are doing extremely well Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. They are in the top 25% in the UNDESA e-Readiness Index. But Caribbean is lagging behind.
UNDESA has seen first hand that the countries that have invested on e- Government solutions and platform have been positively affected. One should note that if e-Government solutions and applications are not adding to the public value of its citizens, then the investment will not bear much fruit. UNDESA believes that public value is important and here, we are not just talking about creating a government website with information on it. But more importantly, any e- Government service, application or solution should improve the life of its citizens and be easy to access online.
Any successful practice, which you would like to share with readers?
A case, which comes to my mind for example at this moment, is ‘e-Dinar’ in Tunisia. A citizen can buy an e-card from post office for 100 dinars or more and that card can be used for paying bills online and other purchases. It can be used as essentially debit card that can be replenish at the post office. It help introduces every citizens to the e-commerce world at a basic level.
Could you suggest any critical success factor for e-Government project?
I believe that governments must have a clear understanding of what its citizens want. The citizen has to be the main focalpoint of any e-Government service or application. If there isn’t any citizen participation, the chances of an e- Government project being under-utilized and in some case not utilized at all are greater. There has to be a demand driven approach. Government just cannot dictate what they want to put online, but they need to find out what is important for the customer, in this case the citizen. Having a driving license online might be important in developed countries but it might not be as important for rural areas in developing countries. However, getting information and knowledge about agriculture issues or health related services might have more importance in rural areas. Therefore getting the request or the requirement of people that are being serviced is critical.
How is India progressing in e- Governance?
If I am not mistaken there are essentially two Indias in term of e-Government implementation. One is doing extremely well in and other parts but lags behind. I believe that India has a great deal to offer to countries in search of practical affordable e-Government solutions. It has a number of excellent best practices that will be highlighted in the UNDESA e-Government Compendium.
International Task Force Launched for e-Government Collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean
The launch of a new international task force to harmonize e-government efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean was announced on 18th November at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) – Phase II, in Tunis. “e-Government effectiveness (eGe) Inter-Agency Task Force” includes the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the World Bank, at the behest of the Development Gateway Foundation.
Recognizing that an efficient and transparent public sector is critical for good governance and democracybuilding, and recognizing the continued potential of e-government initiatives in this regard, the task force responds to the need for international and regional institutions to support country strategies in a more integrated manner. The founding members have agreedto an Action Plan that leverages the core capacities, expertise and resources of each organization. The task force will have an initial duration of two years,
“The formation of this inter-agency Task Force reflects a true commitment by these organizations to better assist the e-government needs of Latin American and Caribbean countries,” said Alan Rossi, Chief Executive Officer of the Development Gateway Foundation.“This Task Force provides a formal, collaborative mechanism for us to work together to achieve greater results in the area of e-government. We want to reduce the burden of coordination that is often placed on our partner governments and – ultimately – to maximize the impact of our financial support,” said Danilo Piaggesi,Chief of IT for Development Division of the Inter- American Development Bank.