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E-government for regional development*
The use of technology in public administration is not a new phenomenon. The
Internet revolution of recent years has employed a combination of information
and communication technologies (ICTs) to produce almost unlimited
possibilities for programming, integration, exchange and growth. According to
David Osborne and Ted Gaebler, authors of Reinventing Government, the idea of
applying ICTs to government functions as an “excuse” for change and as a
cornerstone of efficiency and transparency in public administration began to
gain recognition and earn a spot on government agendas during the end of the
It is not purely coincidental that electronic government (e-government) is experiencing unprecedented growth in the region. Data received from some of the most advanced governments is, at the very least, encouraging:
· The government of Chile received nearly one million tax returns through the Internet during the last tax year.
· The government of Colombia processes more that 3,000 online import transactions each month.
· The government of Mexico has more than 30,000 businesses registered on Compranet, a website that generates more than 6,000 bidding transactions per month.
Using simple mathematics, the potential savings this implies for governments is significant. In any case, the impact of these public-sector savings on the life of the country is minimal when compared to the effect of e-government on the millions of citizens carrying out their business transactions online or the hundreds of thousands of businesses that conduct their government negotiationsrelations through a network.
Even more than savings, it is important to mention here the leadership and management role that each government should play with respect to its citizens. In a region such as Latin America, where the rate of Internet penetration is still painfully low (approximately 10% of the population), each government must encourage their citizens and businesses to use the Internet by providing them with an array of services; not just public transactions, but services designed to meet their basic needs (such as training, health, employment, and social services, among others). The process of hemispheric trade integration that is currently being negotiated, and its potential implications for the business sectors of the region will demand that the governments assume a leadership role in the use of ICTs to help prepare their respective companies, especially small and medium enterprises, in order to take advantage of the promising opportunities the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas will open.
International organizations are often requested by the governments of the region to create mechanisms to build for building political consensus on the formulation and implementation of electronic government plans, both within the ministerial cabinet as well as in the legislative branch. In addition, during a seminar held in El Salvador on "ICTs for Social Development in Central America (May 14-16, 2003), members of civil society recently requested that e-government initiatives not be subject to political swings and that they be designed with enough stability to be successfully implemented regardless of the political party in power.
Both of these demands suggest that modernization and transparency in the public sector should come about as a result of government policies. This, in return, will produce e-government initiatives that are characterized by participation and consensus. This issue will be crucial in determining Latin America’s ability to educate its citizens, offer health services, support business development, and attract foreign investment. ?
Miguel A. Porrúa
Coordinator of the E-Government Program
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.