During recent years Georgia has made big progress in the field of e-government. However, e-democracy and e-election are in the list of the next steps to be taken. E-governance is not just a bonus to have anymore; it is a must-have.
“To be competitive in the global economy today it is very important that businesses can produce very efficiently and quickly and having an e-government makes it easier for businesses to do that,” said Lisa Kaestner, IFC, World Bank Group, regional manager for Investment Climate Advisory Service, Europe and Central Asia.
“In Austria we have mobile phone applications which mean that, for example, you can send a message to your mayor that there is a broken light in the street and ask to have it fixed. So, there is a process of interaction between citizens and politicians. People can tell their government how to spend the budget. All of this is e-democracy and in the end e-voting is possible,” Christian Rupp, Spokesperson, the Federal Platform Digital Austria in the Austrian Federal Chancellery, told The FINANCIAL.
Rupp said that e-voting is not a problem of technologies. The problem is how to assure citizens that it is secure. “If you can train citizens how to use a computer, then e-voting is possible,” he added.
“E-government is a path, it is not a destination. Georgia is somewhere in the middle of this journey. We are really quite impressed by how far you are. We also have the pleasure of helping Georgia in different areas,” said Rupp.
Austrians are already voting online. However, as Rupp said, in the beginning only around 2-3% voted online.
“Insurance companies are the next to start offering consumers an electronic transfer of life insurance. In the end you can order anything electronically. The question is how you can sign and identify yourself electronically. This is a very important issue for data protection and security reasons,” Rupp said.
The World Bank Group and Georgia’s Ministry of Justice hosted a peer-to-peer workshop for 100 representatives of more than 20 countries in Europe, Central and South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa. The event, held last week, showcased how governments can use online information and service delivery mechanisms, commonly known as e-government services, particularly for small and medium sized enterprises.
“Georgia has made great strides already. That is one of the reasons we decided to hold the event here. On the third day we are going to take participants, who come from more than twenty countries, to see what Georgia has done in many areas. Of course technology is always evolving, I am not sure you ever finish e-government; there are always more opportunities to improve. I think Georgia is one of the leaders in this area in the region,” summarised Kaestner, IFC.
“I have not studied in detail each institution that has switched to e-governance for the sake of comparison, but when I was here for a similar event three years ago, we saw for example, the land registry, which I was very impressed with. You could register property online. Also, some of the citizens’ services like driving licenses were done very quickly thanks to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT),” said Kaestner.
“I know that some advances have been made in the area of taxation to make it easier for small businesses to pay taxes. So, for IFC this would be an area for priority - how to introduce even more online services for taxpayers,” she added.
Kaestner agreed that e-government is already working successfully but there is always room to do more. Technology is evolving anyway, so one can always offer more and more services, more quickly, and more easily, using ICT. She said that e-government is not the final state, it is more a process.
One of the things that IFC is working on in several countries is a feedback mechanism. “If you go to pay your taxes, or you do some online service, you then have the ability to give feedback. It becomes a form of communication between the government and citizens, or the government and the private sector. This is an area that is fairly new even to more developed economies. It is something interesting to see, how it will evolve in the coming few years,” said Kaestner.
Austria has experience of more than twenty years in the e-government field. “We can tell you the failures that you may want to avoid. There are five points that should be done in this regard: political will for change, will for organizational change, training programmes for civilians explaining how to use ICT, how to use technology and what security means, there should be a legal change, legal bases of e-government, and in the end there should be organizations that are coordinating all these things sustainably. Because if you are planning a change in public administration it needs a lot of time before real movement can be made,” said Rupp, Austrian Federal Chancellery.
“Implementing technologies means providing better life to our citizens. Austria started in the beginning of the nineties with electronic land, company registration. In the middle of that decade we had the first citizens’ portal, entrepreneurial portals. Since 2000 we have had electronic identity, electronic signature and now 70% of our total population are using e-government services and nearly 100% of companies are using e-government services. It needs five to ten years. But it is a path, it is not a destination, because you have new technologies every day and the issue is how to implement these new technologies in your services,” Rupp said.
Rupp underlined two main benefits that e-government services offer. One is for citizens, as they do not have to physically go to an office to open a company or order a registration certificate. The other benefit is internally for public administration. You have the process of reengineering and they then become that much faster.