In today's world, citizens are increasingly demanding for more convenient, responsive and accessible government services. Besides, they are also expecting more democratic and accountable government.
E-government means different things to different people. Some observers have defined E-government in terms of specific actions: using a government office to receive information, applying for benefits through a web-site, or creating shared data bases for multiple agencies. Other observers have defined E-government in general terms. For instance they see E-government as 'automating the delivery of government services'.
While perceptions of E-government vary widely, there is no doubt that E-government involves using information technology and especially the internet, to deliver government information, and in some cases, services to citizens, businesses and government agencies. E-government could in fact enable citizens to interact and receive services from government 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It should however be clear that E-government is itself a process, or a means to an end, rather than an end in itself.
For Rwanda, e-government is still at a fairly infancy stage of its development and can only promise to evolve in due course. In Rwanda, Government is determined to ensure that its IT policy is implemented. To put the said IT to effectiveness however, there will be need for 'e-readiness' in terms of infrastructure, accessibility to the population at large and the effect of the legal and regulatory framework on ICT use.
This is what Rwanda is attempting to do and it is by no means a simple challenge.
To realize the fullest potential of e-Government requires transformation, a new paradigm for government service delivery centered on the application of technology. As Deloitte Touche Research, New York has revealed, 'e-Government is not just another way of doing things; it is a transformation on a scale that will fundamentally alter the way public services are delivered and managed. It does not have a fixed developmental time line; it is evolutionary'.
Like most governments, the Rwanda government's path to e-Government has been evolutionary. Rwanda government's support for the e-Government programme is part of the ICT-led Socio-Economic Development Policy and Plan for Rwanda ( NICI-Plan ) toward achieving a knowledge-based economy as envisioned in the country's Vision 2020. E-Government strategy focuses on the evolution of existing systems and implementation of new ones in order to promote a variety of issues including portability, scalability and security. Other components include: Capacity development, electronic transaction legislation, security issues and access plus networking in the public sector and addressing minimum technology standards on systems, hardware and software.
An Electronic Documentation Centre is in place at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) which was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The said centre is playing an role as part of the country's strategic plan for safe keeping and fast retrieval of vital documents and materials generated through the development of Rwanda.
It is important to note that if many of the e-Government solutions often involve some conversions of paper documents into electronic ( digital format such as .doc or .pdf ) and their storage in information systems, many challenges will have to be addressed. For instance, how will access to the said documents be controlled? Who will be authorized to make changes to the said documents? What will be the mechanisms to ensure that data integrity of the documents is maintained during transmission? For new documents created in electronic format, what mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that they retain their authenticity and proof of origin? The list of questions may be long.
Infrastructure has been put in place including laying down of fiber network across the city of Kigali, which started from Kacyiru, an outskirt of Kigali that is headquarters to a number of Government Ministries and Departments. The idea was to ensure that all ministries and Government Departments are connected by fiber. For the last six years Rwanda has had what it takes to deliver e-government services.
While fiber is said to be expensive in the short run, it is critical infrastructure that will in the long run be an advantage to Rwanda's telecommunications industry. For instance having fiber optic is in favour of Rwanda as international calls are routed through Kigali on account of reliable infrastructure. Better and reliable services are already being offered including normal data service.
Despite this impressive shift to IT, we will need to undergo a paradigm shift-a kind of process re-engineering. We will need to have products and services that match our vision. We will need to educate our people on the value of information. Information will have to be quantified and also ensure that there is security and safety of information. The user of the information must not feel worried about issues of safety and security.
At the end of the day e-Government cannot be successfully implemented if the service providers are not able to use it. Given the way things are taking shape, there is little doubt that e-government in Rwanda will be a reality in the very near future.