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ON THE LEFT: Common framework among challenges


ON THE LEFT: Common framework among challenges

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E-GOVERNMENT IS CLOSELY RELATED to the concept of e-governance, which the Commonwealth Secretariat has defined as governments’ “utilisation of information and communications technology to interact with and provide services to businesses, citizens, and other governments with the intent to improve transparency, increase public service efficiency, and deepen democracy”.

E-government, viewed as a subset of e-governance, refers to the public sector structure that enables these goals, through the implementation of systems that enable “electronic service delivery, electronic workflow, electronic voting, and electronic productivity”.

An important goal of e-government systems is to enable bi-directional, engagement, permitting remote interaction between a government and its citizens, government and businesses, and within the government itself.

These interactions would entail, for example, enabling the electronic submission of forms for actitivies such as tax reporting, registration for social services, and applications for licences and permits; orchestration of activities that require coordination across government ministries, departments and agencies, such as budgeting, resource management and project planning functions.

Caribbean governments have begun the process of modernisation that is required to implement e-government services, though the effectiveness of these efforts has been mixed.

While the countries in the region are at different stages of development with respect to e-government, the most prominent of the common issues that they are experiencing is the need for a comprehensive framework, encompassing a common set of government-wide standards, protocols, and processes to be followed by the entire public sector, to the extent that common national standards can be aligned together as common regional standards.

There is the potential to benefit from economies of scale through multi-lateral cooperation in procurement, capacity building and industrial development for the information and communication technology sector.

Though Caribbean countries have been working on e-government individually, the common set of issues and challenges they face has already led to the adoption of similar software projects. These include the implementation of ASYCUDA, the widespread use of electronic information management systems, and a general movement toward the usage of open source software.

However, there is still much redundancy in implementation, coupled with misalignment in choices of technology, many initiatives could benefit considerably from tighter harmonisation of efforts.

Unfortunately, there are also significant challenges that stand in the way of this coordination. These challenges range from differing national policies and priorities, to procurement process issues, change management concerns during the implementation process, and difficulty in escaping the problem of vendor lock-in.

Close examination of these issues, and of the experiences of regional e-government initiatives in the recent past, has shown that many potential regional projects are unlikely to be able to overcome all these constraints – but this is not universally the case, and regional initiatives can play an important role in the development of e-government systems in the Caribbean.

Those projects most likely to succeed are carefully targeted to address common problems, have sufficient commitment from partner countries, and build upon pre-existing legal and institutional frameworks for collaboration.

Notably, these success criteria for regional projects are hardly unique to the e-government arena, but rather can be applied across a broad range of regional development needs.