Years ago, when I first started writing about technology in government, the term “e-government” was still a new concept. And Canada was one of the first countries to really embrace that concept. Today, the two words are synonymous: e-government is government.
And everybody’s doing it. Even some of the most backward governments in the world, like the militia junta that rules Myanmar by force, have e-government strategies. It doesn’t matter if you’re democratic or communist – or even recognized by other nations as a legitimate government. It doesn’t matter if you’re a government in exile (like the Tibetan government in India). It doesn’t even matter if you embrace freedom of the press or keep a tight lid on the media. Some countries that are considered quite undemocratic have some of the best e-government strategies in the world.
South Korea is a leader
And this is the wonder of technology – it doesn’t make these distinctions, nor does it judge. Technology is there to serve a purpose: to communicate with citizens and make government services more accessible. As the years have passed, we’ve seen developing nations come up with ICT initiatives that have surpassed those of developed nations. We’ve seen how buy-in and support from the upper echelons of government can make a world of difference, no matter what your status on the world stage. We Canadians have learned a few lessons from countries as diverse as South Korea, Brazil and Chile.
This year, South Korea is the “showcase country,” at the annual GTEC conference in Ottawa, and rightly so. This East Asian country is considered far ahead of the curve when it comes to ICT initiatives. Through an aggressive e-government roadmap, advanced technology and nation-wide broadband network, the country managed to work its way up the ranks to No. 5 on the United Nation’s ranking of e-government readiness last year among 191 countries. South Korea was highest among Asian countries. And Canada? Well, um, let’s just say we didn’t make the top five.
South Korea has an impressive central services portal that offers an array of government-related transactions with several payment options, including digital currency. It also has one of the world’s best e-procurement systems with a single window for public procurement. But I think it’s best said by Jin Choung, a fifth grader who commented on South Korea’s technological prowess on a Kids Online forum: “Korea has the world’s best Internet and cell phones. Cell phones can be connected with (the) Internet, can take pictures and … have games. The best thing is you can watch movies through cell phones!!!!! The whole world is buying Korean cell phones. We also have Liger. Liger’s dad is a tiger and his mom is a lion!”
Brazil’s government, also attending this year’s GTEC, will discuss the potential benefits of m-government, or mobile government, as part of an overall e-government strategy. With the proliferation of handheld devices and 3G wireless technology, Brazil plans to use m-government applications to inform citizens and improve internal government operations from mobile transactions to m-administration to m-democracy.
We all share a lot of the same challenges, such as bridging the digital divide. But we’ve also seen how e-government is not one-size-fits-all, and what works here in Canada isn’t necessarily going to work elsewhere. Nor is it a panacea for all that ails governments.
We used to talk about e-government as a project. But it turns out that e-government isn’t a project with a specific timeline – instead, it’s a continual evolution, one that will never really end. And we have a whole new generation of global citizens, like Jin Choung, for whom technology is already second nature, and for whom e-government will be just another word for government.