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UN E-Government Survey in the News  
You may find the major news from media related to the United Nations E-Government Survey in this section.

Is e-government a bad idea?
Source: Kipp Report, http://www.kippreport.com/2010/03/is-e-government-a-bad-idea/
Source Date: Sunday, March 28, 2010
Focus: E-Education
Country: Bahrain
Created: Apr 05, 2010

At first blush, it seems like launching e-government services is a win-win situation.

Proponents argue that connecting with citizens via the internet is more convenient for both parties, offers greater efficiencies and helps cut costs in the public sector.

Arab countries seem to agree, with more and more states launching e-government services. In December, executives of GCC e-government programs met in Oman to coordinate their various efforts, and in May, Bahrain will host its third annual e-government forum to showcase the latest technologies and software.

And for the first time ever, the Middle East will host the annual Cisco Networkers Conference, to be held in Bahrain. The event will assemble professionals from around the world to participate in education and training seminars for information and communications technology (ICT) professionals.

In many respects, Bahrain appears to be leading the way. The tiny Kingdom is indeed tech savvy when it comes to government services, clinching the top spot among regional governments in this year’s UN e-government Readiness Survey. Bahrain’s global ranking shot up 29 spaces, with the Kingdom securing 13th place worldwide and third place among Asian countries – topping even tech-savvy Japan. The UAE was second in the region, and placed 50th worldwide; Kuwait and Jordan rounded out the top four spots in the Arab world.

Advocates of e-government tout its potential to connect citizens quickly and directly to what their government has to offer – no lines, no waiting, always open. Cost savings are also a major enticement to go online: At the time of its inauguration, Bahrain’s e-government portal was expected to cut the tiny kingdom’s overheads by a whopping 90 percent.

“Bahrain is a small country and we do not have mass production, but we are talking of savings of 90 to 95 percent on overhead costs,” Mohammed al-Qaed reportedly told DPA, upon the launch of Bahrain’s e-government portal.

Streamlining communication, boosting speed, efficiency and convenience – these are the goals of expanded e-government. Advocates also point out the opportunities for citizens to play a greater role in public policy. Bahrain’s e-government portal offers a blog-style forum for public views, suggestions and requests – complete with personalized responses.

But not all initiatives in the region are this developed, and not everyone shares the enthusiasm for greater connectedness between citizens and government via the internet. According to a report by Arab Advisors Group, 12 Arab countries had e-government portals at the close of last year, but the quality of services varies widely.

And while proponents tout cost savings, detractors are asking the same question in reverse: are the costs justified?

For about a decade, the business of selling technology to government has come increasingly into the public awareness. According to analysis by the Economist last year, a lot of money is spent on e-government infrastructure, with questionable returns.

“So far… the story of e-government has been one of quantity, not quality. It has provided plenty of reason for skepticism and not much cause for enthusiasm,” said the Economist.

“Whereas e-commerce has been a spectacular success… e-government has yet to transform public administration. Indeed, its most conspicuous feature has been a colossal waste of taxpayers’ money on big computer systems, poorly thought out and overpriced,” the report added.

From high profile projects that were scrapped, budgets being exceeded by millions of dollars, to the exclusion of survey participants who are not internet-savvy – the report looks at the challenges to realizing a return on investment in e-government.

“Putting public services online is no use to those who cannot afford a computer or will have nothing to do with technology. The phrase ‘look on our website’ is a turn-off for a significant chunk of most countries’ population,” the report suggests.

Other concerns include the loss of public sector jobs, a greater government presence in our private lives, and the frightening spectre of trying to rectify computer mistakes.

“When a computer insists that you owe the government money, your car is illegally parked or you do not exist, unscrambling the problem is much harder,” the report contends.

As regional governments look to bolster their online services, they will hopefully follow both the successes, and learn from the failures, of similar initiatives worldwide.
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