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Asia: Public-Private Coalitions Key to Digital Divide
Source: futuregov.asia
Source Date: Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government, ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Created: Oct 22, 2010

Public and private sector partnerships are needed to address the digital divide in Asia’s emerging economies, according to government officials at the recent FutureGov Summit.

During a panel discussion on bringing ICT to rural and remote regions, leading government officials from The Philippines, Canada and India said that alliances with the private sector would create more sustainable programmes, but that transparency was required in all project roll-outs.

“There is a programme that is being downloaded into local government [in The Philippines] specifically to the league of the municipalities that is promoting partnerships with other foreign partners,” said Mayor of Dinalupihan in Bataan, Joel Payumo.

“It is a standardised system, and has been made an operational procedure.”

According to a report by ITU, the UN agency for ICT issues, 162 million of 226 million new Internet users in 2010 will be from developing countries.

The Philippines currently has a low internet penetration - 29 per cent - out of a population of nearly 100 million, according to Internet World Stats.

Payumo said his region had established a successful program to install e-community centers in rural and remote parts of the country “where people have access to the government”.

Addressing the FutureGov Summit, Ministry of Government Services CIO for Ontario, Canada, David Nicholl, said that governments should focus on regulatory work and “private-public coalition building”, but added that the private sector must be allowed to have operational control in partnerships with the public sector.

“We focus on having a government policy, to encourage partnerships between municipalities and the private sector with some seed money from both,” Nicholl said.

“It’s a little bit of competition to come up with the most efficient business schemes that would drive economic development or will drive some kind of community participation.

“It’s what I called private-public collision, plus it’s more about allowing the private sector to just go and do what they have to mandate some operational control.”

Aside from establishing strategic alliances, Additional Secretary for the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, Dr Sudhir Krishna, stressed that the promotion of transparency was important in bridging the digital divide.

India’s Internet penetration currently sits at 6.9 per cent of its 1.2 billion population, according to the ITU.

Dr Krishna said that the Government uploads information on ICT projects systematically so that people are able to see which projects are selected and implemented in rural areas.

“These (projects) are being uploaded so the common man can view them, because they often cannot approach a government officer to find out what’s happening,” Dr Krishna said.

“This transparency brings about improved accountability of the [government] agency and gives satisfaction to the people.”

IBM Global Industry Director of Strategy, Mark Cleverly, said the region faced “challenges of scale” around the digital divide.

In Indonesia you’ve had very rapid growth rates - but still in a population of 240 million you have less than 20 per cent penetration. It’s a big problem,” he said.

“The scale challenge is a very tough. But I think we are moving to a point wherein so many services are becoming dependent on that kind of connectivity that you probably do have to argue about it becoming a legislative right.”

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