The 2014 United Nations e-Government Survey, which was released in the month of June, provides a bird’s eye view of e-Government practices around the world. While the survey notes significant improvements in several countries in their march towards smart governance, it also reflects the increasingly disparate state of affairs in the comity of nations concerning the levels of services provided to the people by their respective governments.
In recognition of the revolutionary development in digital technologies, the UN report considerably expands upon the definition of e-Government in the new report. The new definition, which is more holistic and comprehensive, describes e-Government as “the use and application of information technologies in public administration to streamline and integrate workflows and processes, to effectively manage data and information, enhance public service delivery, as well as expand communication channels for engagement and empowerment of people.”
The conceptual framework of the survey revolves around the three pivotal factors of availability of online services, telecommunication infrastructure and human capacity. It is not insignificant that the three highest ranking countries – namely the Republic of Korea, Australia and Singapore – are not from the Western hemisphere, although Europe continues to provide overall leadership in the transition to smart governance on a global scale. Needless to say, the economic factors largely explain the disparities between the high ranking countries and those that lagged behind.
Perhaps even equally important is the fact that several countries fell below their 2012 rankings not due to mere economic factors but on account of the lack of open government data, which resulted in poor flow of information from governments to the people. Interestingly, several other countries improved their rankings precisely because the levels of transparency in them did rise as a result of open government data. The United Arab Emirates is among the frontrunners in this regard as it is listed among the countries with a score higher than 66.6 per cent in data publishing.
The European Union average in regard to the E-Government Data Index (EGDI) is well above the world average. The GCC average is above the EU average, with all the GCC countries being ranked among the top achievers and categorised as High EGDI countries, with Bahrain joining the Very High EGDI countries. In spite of numerous initiatives both at the federal and local levels, the UAE’s ranking declined from 28 in 2012 to 32 in 2014, and this perhaps is largely due to our collective failure in sufficiently documenting and projecting our achievements. The survey singles out the Emirates Identity Authority’s biometric enrolment of the population as one of the best in the world. Moreover, the UAE is ranked 12th in online service delivery.
“As in 2012, the 2014 results show the reappearance of Bahrain (7th), the United Arab Emirates (12th) and Saudi Arabia (tied at 18th) among the frontrunners. All members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, these countries have managed to remain in step with counterparts in other regions, typically OECD member countries, through high-level attention to e-government development and the benefits of the wider Information Society,” says the survey.
Several countries registered remarkable improvement and managed to jump multiple spots as compared to their 2012 rankings, demonstrating that two years is not a short span of time for a country to bring about sea changes. Australia (from 12th rank to the second), Singapore (from 10th to three), Japan (18 to six), Spain (23 to 12) and Bahrain (from 36 to 18) belong to this enviable group of high achievers. The case of Uruguay is worth noting in this context as it jumped 24 places from rank 50 in 2012, to 26 in 2014 in contrast to the US, which dropped by two spots from five to seven and Canada whose ranking remained unchanged at 11.
The example of Uruguay is especially relevant since the argument of economic advantage does not apply in its case as it does in the case of several other frontrunners. Uruguay accomplished this praiseworthy feat thanks to concerted efforts to evolve a unified and simplified national approach for adoption of ICT in the country in close collaboration with academia, civil society and international organisations with similar purposes.
“Public administration, being the cornerstone of governments’ work is essential for improving peoples’ lives. Amidst the economic, social and environmental challenges, e-government has continued to play an important role in enabling the delivery of quality public services that meet citizen needs and goals by transforming how the public sector works,” explains the UN Survey. The key message here is that adding to the citizens’ happiness is the principal measure of e-Government success.
That in a nutshell summarises what the UAE is currently involved in as well. Instead of being either complacent about the compliments or overly worried about the small drop in rankings, we need to focus all our attention on how to take our already robust e-government initiatives to the next level of efficiency and effectiveness and retain the smile on the faces of our citizenry.
Dr Ali Mohamed Al Khouri is Director General of the Emirates Identity Authority. He has several books and more than 70 research papers to his credit. He is a Special Advisor to the European Union for Single Electronic Identification and Authentication Project in Europe (STORK 2.0) and an Advisory Observer for Secure Identity Alliance in Europe