3 Best Practices of E-Government that are Relevant for Asia
Throughout the world there has been an increase in the number of countries opting to digitize their government services. In the latest United Nations E-Government Survey (2016), it was noted that around 148 countries now provide at least one form of online services to the public. This number only stood at 33 back in 2003. Besides this, 90 countries now provide some form of single entry portal to different public information and services (in 2003, this was only 45). With the global digital economy pushing more businesses to digitize their businesses, it is also evident that governments need to catch up with this growing trend. E-Government not only makes the provision of public services easier but also increases transparency and accountability. In Asia, there are quite a few best practices that highlight these benefits. These are of course tied to advanced economies in the region that include the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Japan. But there are some notable ones from other countries, too. The following are three of the best.
Land Registry Digitization
In 2008, India launched its national and record modernization program. The background to this initiative was rooted in the country’s struggle to survey land and property, with some land having been left unmapped even for centuries. While some states have struggled more than others to survey land, another problem has also been that despite new land laws being put into place, the poor still lack access to these services. With an initial budget of USD 841 million that was aimed at completion in 2016, the government doubled the budget and extended the timeframe to 2021. The main goals behind the digitization of the country’s land registry are to survey land, upgrade existing records, and establishing ownership of land that didn’t previously exist on records. The main work processes involved in this initiative include the mapping of land using aerial surveys, satellites, drones, and physical markers. These are then included into the main land registry database after being verified. For existing land records, this also allows government officials to verify their authenticity. All the data is then put online and linked to landowners. Hundreds of millions of documents have already been digitized and it is hoped that this will enable the government to better monitor land ownership and provide services more efficiently. It is also hoped that there will be fewer land ownership disputes in the country and less corruption in the system. The state of Andhra Pradesh had pioneered such work around the turn of the millennium, with good results. The experience then was that such a reform is 40% technical work and 60% political push to overcome resistance from entrenched vested interests that have their discretionary power taken away which closes avenues for patronage and corruption. Another example was a reform of land titling in Cebu city, the second largest city in the Philippines. These cases also demonstrate the value of decentralization, as vital innovations can be tested on a smaller scale where political and bureaucratic obstruction can be overcome more easily, and where success can help build support for broader reforms.
Hong Kong is also on its way to catching up with the top smart cities in the region. With new digital initiatives introduced in the early 2000s, the territory is continuously looking for ways to improve their e-government strategy. The objective behind this is to deliver services more efficiently and to improve the quality of life of citizens. With Hong Kong being a regional business hub, a major part of their e-government initiative has been to make it easier for businesses to register their companies. With 80% of their public services already offered online, businesses can now also access Hong Kong’s one-stop online portal to register their companies and conduct all their administrative tasks through a single gateway. This includes such administrative tasks like registering their businesses, dealing with licensing and permits, intellectual property, and even the cancellation of their business registration, deregistration, and other matters. Through a single platform, residents, non-residents, businesses, and social groups can access a plethora of services and this enables the government to do their job more efficiently and effectively.
E-Services for the Public
Perhaps the best example to showcase the digitizing of democracy, in 2006 South Korea launched its “smart governance” strategy with the aim of making their services more citizen-led. Today the country has many best practices that are being adopted by other countries. One such system is their mVoting system. Built as a communication platform between the government and the public, policies are shared on the platform and citizens are able to vote for those policies that they are in favor of. Currently the platform has around 800 voting agendas with around 70,000 citizens already engaging with the system via an app. To help with the digitizing of their public services, the government has also established close to 4,000 free public wifi spots across the city of Seoul alone. In gathering public opinion on the government’s performance, they also launched “Oasis”, which is an online public proposal system aimed at gathering ideas from the public on issues affecting the city. The system has been very successfully and this can be seen in the 500 plus ideas that have already been reflected in policies aimed at improving the governance of Seoul.
Asia is therefore no stranger to the digitizing of government services and it is evident that we’re well on our way to strengthening our digital economies in the next decade. For governments struggling to get started with the digitization of their public services, it is worth drawing knowledge and capacity assistance from those that have already implemented their digital initiatives. However, it is worth noting that for the digitization of governments to be effective, including public citizens in the process and ultimately putting their freedom and security as the ultimate outcome of a digitized government is crucial. Reforms such as these move countries away from discretionary power of politicians and bureaucrats that breed patronage and corruption towards systems where all citizens are treated equally, where the requirements are spelled out clearly, and where people are being served as per the rules in a professional and speedy manner. Professional, rules-based governance is, after all, one of the key building blocs of a modern, just and free society.