Volume 11, No. 1, April 2001
Efficient and Electronic
Zubair Faisal Abbasi
ICTs are effectively showing new dimensions to old institutional setups. There is a reinforced thrust for an informed and participatory citizenry for efficient egovernance. It goes without saying that impact of ICT on institutional changes is fast spreading across the boundaries of social and political arrangements of societies. This allows analysis of institutional behavior with methodologies other than those used to apply for gauging perceived institutional changes. The reigns of Internet that were designed as a project for developing robust and efficient defense systems are being promptly taken over by the business community, particularly after the introduction of HTML in the late 1993, and recently by the state governments (http://www.knowsley .gov.uk/) for performing their traditional roles and new functions more efficiently and cost-effectively. There are at least three basic needs, apart from the potentials of e-commerce, that ask for instituting e-governance both in developing and developed countries.
First, the essentiality of e-governance emanates from emerging participatory models in management systems. The argument lays stress on shared visions for strategies, both at the horizontal and vertical levels of planning and management. Therefore, to involve citizens in dialogue and decision-making at the public policy and practice levels, there is a great need for making government departments reachable to stakeholders through harnessing the potential of new technologies and media. (http://magnet.undp.org/policy/)
Second, there it is a need to bridge information-data gaps and lapses which lead to inappropriate planning and decision making divorced from sharable scientific statistical data amongst the government departments and planning agencies.
Third, the emerging new models of good governance which stress involvement of governments, civil society and business community at appropriate levels of planning and implementation, make it imperative to let decision making bodies, personnel and debates electronically accessible to pubic through rapid diffusion of ICT in societies. "The Rapid Diffusion Argument" is supported by the fact, "if 50 million is taken as a measure to make a technology ubiquitous, then the automobile took some 30-odd years to reach this level and television twenty. The Internet, however, has taken only five, and is well on its way to doubling that number in less than two more years".
In today's speedy and accelerated world that is in a phase of transition where not only the means of communication, but the very living patterns and norms of societies are in the melting pot, there is an unprecedented urgency for making bureaucracies and state governments responsive to societal needs. The needs refer not only to subsistence level facilities but new and adjusted laws which govern the means of wealth creation and its distribution along with access to tangible and intangible resources. In this context, the patterns of living in information societies adopting "e-governance" don't expect to let files move at the customary speed with tags of "through proper channel". They ask for problems in bureaucratic management to be simultaneously worked out in both horizontal and vertical manner. Do we want to reciprocate emerging social and economic realities with new laws or old laws tinkered at faster speed? Reciprocating with new laws is the unanimous answer while looking at stereotype bureaucratic hurdles that do nothing but impede the smooth transition of societies from underdeveloped to developed and from stagnant to dynamic ones. Sequentially, it can be said without fear of contradiction that ICT has potential to help engineer such an enabling atmosphere where the prevailing governance paradigms meet shifts in the command and control mechanisms both at the policy and implementation level.
A category-wise summary of how each segment of governance apparatus can facilitate one another and accrue benefits, leaving aside the points of convergence where shared-agenda can crop up, is presented.
Government: Service delivery and its management at the local and national levels by "single source of information" for citizens; institutional efficiency with faster decision making; data- management for inter and intra-governmental bodies; instituting responsive governmental management for dialogues at the planning and implementation levels; efficient feedback mechanisms; economic and social benefits by integrating ICT component in Rural Support Programmes and poverty alleviation strategies, etc.
Civil Society: Tapping the participatory and democratic potential in an intrinsically anarchist cyberspace; horizontal networking of civil society organizations for creating synergies by informed decision making, policy and grass roots level interventions; protecting consumer and human rights by concerted efforts; informing and representing citizens at the national and international forums to raise local level concerns by developing 'portals' and 'hubs'.
Business: Efficient service delivery; market expansion in hitherto unexplored areas by advertising and other tools for expanding audience; business transactions at low cost with minimized role of the middleman, help create external economies with innovation potential of entrepreneurs; raising business concerns and making policy level recommendations; creating organized job markets to make best use of available human resources etc. Apart from these, macro-economic impact on national economy is bound to increase due to the growing tertiary sector of economy; expansion of job market in the services sector; and alleviating balance of payment crisis by software and hardware export.
In DCs like Pakistan, the need and potential for diffusion and spread of ICT is immense. There are however a few impediments. The first may be the nature of state structures and a very small section of a responsive and vibrant civil society that may demand for its rights through charged political interventions. When it comes to the nature of state structures, unfortunately the perception and main thrust of efforts have always been on "concealment and revenue generation" rather than "open source social development". This has resulted in institutional imbalances in state and civil society panorama. The exclusionary approach permeating through this perception needs to be changed from "everything is confidential unless directed otherwise" to "everything is in public domain unless directed otherwise". This asks for paradigm shifts in government agencies' perception to see society as "partners" of governance and development and not "adversaries" to state level management.
In using ICT for efficient, elastic and electronic governance, the government, civil society organizations and the business sector need to design interventions keeping in view the democratic accountability of functionaries or those in power, by yet-in-the-making informed knowledge societies. The first point to be taken into cognizance is providing wider access to the opportunities and infrastructure of information technologies so as to cope with the "digital divide" between information haves and have-nots.
Knowledge and information as a source of power in itself is a fluid and democratic commodity with immense potential to include previously excluded communities from the center-of-stage socio-economic activities. In the same way, knowledge sharing through ICT is one of the best available tools to bridge institutional imbalances that have shoved the structures of governance at the excruciating dilemma of social and economic exclusions. These exclusionary practices are at the root of social disruptions and sheer economic disparities at the local, regional and sub-regional levels and need to be negotiated by the power of Internet.
To conclude, for instituting viable e-governance, there is a need for change in perceptions and visions for future life, needs and rights of societies. Perhaps, for growth and development, ICT need and, optimistically speaking, can create those changes both at the institutional and policy levels of governance. E-governance cannot and should not exclude the marginalized sections of society but should take them along the path of progress with enhanced accessibility to ICT infrastructure at the urban, rural and sub-urban levels.