“All governments in order to obtain the

“All
technologies from the steam engine to the computers through nuclear power and
telephony and satellites have been adding to the convenience, comfort and
efficiency of humans in their pursuit for happiness and wealth”

 (Prabhu, 2012)

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For every state it is
vital to have effectively designed and efficiently operating governments in
order to obtain the sustainable social and economic welfare and to reach the
condition of the good government. In spite of the fact that “good” principles
usually encompassed such concepts as transparency, efficiency, participation,
responsibility, and market economy, state of law, democracy, and justice”(Drechsler,
2004) and yet, today  many of these
concepts are largely doubted by critics and given essay doesn’t intend to give
an overview  of the concept of  “good governance”, but this citation implies
to highlighting the approach of governments towards better performance through
reforms in above-mentioned concepts to deliver better services to citizens and
thus rise the effectiveness of the public welfare.

 

Introduction

 

What is the key to the
good and successful government in the contemporary world? What drives modern
day governments to meet the demands of their citizens? Probably the answer to
all of the aforementioned questions will be – the constant improvement of
delivered goods. Improvement, on the other hand, equals to implementation
innovative approaches towards the processes or goods produced (in case of state
entities, provided goods mainly involve various public services) and thus we
come to the point where we have to define what the innovation for public
organizations means – “innovation is a core task of public organizations that
improves responsiveness and efficiency” (Mulgan and Albury, 2003).

There can be various
reasons that provoke public organizations to transform. Novelties mostly serve
to the purpose of sophistication of management procedures and produced goods to
increase responsiveness towards the society’s needs; In more general perception,
the principal drivers of public sector innovation is either political ambition,
public demand (citizens, businesses, non-private organizations) and/or
tightening the resources(Walker, 2006). Success stories of modern governments,
on a great extent, depend on novelties in provision of public services. New
solutions are applied to various sectors, such as public safety, education,
health care, etc. and they directly or indirectly affect the public
administration process itself.

“Effective government
and public services depend on successful innovation” (Mulgan and  Albury, 2003) – during the past decades main
innovations that governments all over the world apply to their routines have
come through the information and communication technologies (ICT). “Governments
have come to be responsible for organizing and regulating not only traditional
activities of defense, law and order, and justice but also social welfare and
human resource development. Governments are the single largest takers of
people’s earnings and the providers of a variety of services to citizens,
including dispensing information and welfare. It is therefore natural that ICTs
are increasingly used to improve government services”. (Prabhu, 2012)

Implementation of
information technology (IT)  based tools
into service delivery processes have led to formation of e-Governance systems.
“E-Government is seen as a tool to help governments deliver information and
services in ways that meet users’ needs 
and convenience – rather than follow stovepipe government structures –
and lead to more transparent and effective government. E-Government brings
services closer to citizens and businesses” (OECD E-Government Project, 2005) .
It is largely seen as a phenomenon that can have beneficial impacts on the
society, but as “The coin always has two sides”, there are few things in this
world that do not have two-faced implications – latest innovations towards
introduction of advanced ICT tools into public administration processes with
bringing noticeable benefits to societies, simultaneously have questioned
various crucial aspects of the aforementioned concept. Below I will try to
discuss the role if ICT in public service delivery process through Estonian and
Singaporean examples and define positive sides and drawbacks of the local
systems.

Estonian
Success Story

 

The issue of promotion
innovations through public service delivery channels, thus creation of
e-Government and enabling access to e-Services has been challenging Estonian
government since the collapse of the Soviet Union. After regaining political
and economic independence in 1991 Estonia could become one of the most advanced
country  in promoting the technology-based
information society. Through several waves of transformation from traditional
Weberian model of public administration to New Public Management Principles, then
to post–NPM systems, even reestablishment of Weberian principles and testing
out post-post-NPM systems, “Estonian government could succeed to make a
remarkable success story in context of e-Government” (Kalvet, 2012). Nowadays
this small country represents the only state in the world that holds nationwide
electronic elections as well as is capable of offering around 99% of public
services online.

With the population one
of the smallest in Europe, in total 1,3 million residents, Estonia became world
known for its innovative products and for the reforms done throughout the
country making this little state international player and pioneer  in vast of e-Governance technologies.  As mentioned above, idea of switching to
paperless government came into Estonian agenda 
after the collapse of the Soviet Union – country officials saw the need
of creation efficient state that would rapidly change country’s direction from
Soviet clashes towards modern west. “Every cloud has a silver lining” – so all
the drawbacks that the tiny state had: small territory, few population, long
distance from the western European countries, etc.  drove country towards development of the
convenient public administration systems, that would offer its citizens public
services in a fast and comfortable manner; 
systems that would be easy to execute and control – thus overtime gained
competitive advantage in the digital ways of getting things done, while
eventually formed itself as an e-Country. “E-Services have the potential to
change many traditional practices in the society, thus social and ethical
aspects must be researched further” (Kalvet, 2007).  Later below are discussed some of the
striking reforms that have heavily influenced Estonia’s reputation as an
e-Country.

Singaporean
Success Story

 

When it comes to
Singapore, this small island city-state can really be conceived as a success
story in many aspects of governance and can be a role model for developing
countries. “The Singapore model of public management is premised on meritocratic
principles in recruitment and promotion, a strict bureaucratic hierarchy and
administrative impartiality” (Robinson, 2015). 
Achievements in the development of governance system in Singapore mostly
relies on those policies that have been adopted after gaining the independence,
these policies can be: “comprehensive reform of the Singapore Civil Service; Decentralization
of the Public Service Commission; strong and enforceable anticorruption
measures; and payment of competitive market salaries to attract and retain the
best candidates in the public service” (Robinson, 2015(Quah, 2013 )). “Introduction
of New Public Management tools by adopting new models of management along with
the implementation of e-Government contributed to development in public service
delivery systems” (Robinson, 2015(Lee and Haque,2006; Saker, 2006 )).

“Singapore’s
e-Government journey began in the early 80s. From the 80s through the 90s, the
government set out to raise the infocomm competency of the entire public
sector. Computers initially a rarity became ubiquitous in the public sector by
the 90s. Then with an increasingly pervasive Internet in the late 90s, we
launched our public services online. For the past 25 years or so, ICT was used
innovatively as a strategic enabler to transform the way the public sector
works. ICT is now an integral part of our operations and services to better
serve our people and businesses. 1,600 e-government services are available
online 24-7 for businesses and citizens. These range from seeking approval for
major building projects to passport renewals to filing income tax returns. Last
year, around 160 million transactions on such services were made from a base
population of 4.5 million people” – said in his statement for the 4th
Ministerial e-Government Conference on “Reaping the Benefits of e-Government”
in 2007 former minister of Information, Communication and the Arts of Singapore
Dr.Lee Boon yang. Singapore, this small island city-state became a world
pioneer country in lots of projects dedicated to creation of innovation driven governments,
focused on providing more than 98 percent of public services online to the
citizens.  Building the pervasive and
really effective electronic governance systems has become the main target of
the Singapore government for already decades and thus achieving public welfare
is a common way of operation for government.

“The focus of our
e-Government is about re-engineering the internal government thought processes
and work procedures so as to be able to leverage IT efficiently and effectively
to better serve our citizens and businesses. Our ultimate goal is to meet the
needs of our citizens and engage them” – said in his speech  for  Information
Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) International Conference former
Chairman GPC, Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts  of Singapore Ms. Penny Low. In fact,
Singapore could succeed to create one of the wealthiest and the most advanced,
high-tech country in the world.

 

 

Positive
aspects electronically delivered public services

 

Probably, the main goal
of formerly discussed both governments is to serve their citizens and provide
them high quality services. In fact, having advantage to hold the power over
the country, puts obligations on them to govern too. Increasing efficiency and
opportunities for better service provision is one of the main tasks for them
that leads to good governance conditions. The citizens as well as private and
non-for profit organizations want fast and easy accessible services and in fact
Information Technologies have heavily influenced service delivery systems;
Below I will try to represent general framework of advantages and drawbacks of
IT influenced public service delivery systems that applies formerly discussed both
governments;

From dozens of positive
effects that are natural for electronic distribution of  public services, some highlighted ones would
definitely be as follows: Availability
of the state services – unlike traditional schemes, where citizens can get
services only five days in a week, during the office hours, in a digital
environment services are available 24/7 and one can get desirable service at
any time of the day; Comfortable –
services are provided online, in a fast and comfortable manner, and so citizens
get access to e-Services from various devices and from everywhere, either
within or outside of the country (if we examine an Estonian example,  e-Residency service allows beneficiaries get public
services even while being outside of the country); Not only it becomes easy for
citizens to get services, but also for state agencies collecting, processing
and disseminating the data becomes easier and thus helps to efficiently
use  resources; Access on one’s own activities history – deploying state services
from online platforms and having a personal electronic account that keeps track
of activities, allows citizens to always be aware of their actions wherever and
whenever they want to. Faster
communication – instead of visiting special places and spending a lot of
time on the simplest procedures, through e-Services doing such activities can
be done in a very short period of time and in a more convenient manner
(Estonian e-Voting system is the best example supporting this position- instead
of staying in long lines to vote for someone via paper ballots, one can vote
via mobile, while still in lying bed in the morning). Along with the
aforementioned, less paper is involved in service provision and management
procedures, which also makes the service provision procedures easy to execute; Cost efficiency –  switching service delivery processes from
traditional ways of doing things to IT driven ones, helps governments to more
efficiently use their resources and enhance their productivity (Estonian
government annually saves 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (Roivas, 2016),
while already in 2001 Singapore government could succeed to approximately
generate around $14,5 million savings (Ke and Kee Wei, 2015)). Bureaucracy level is also shrunk while
providing services online – face to face interaction with citizens becomes
almost unnecessary, so organizations aren’t required to have in-office workers,
which therefore means less salary budgets and, in general, less costs for state
agencies in other employee-involved aspects too; More transparency – offering IT based services allows for more
government transparency because electronic platforms become a tool for the
public to constantly stay informed about what the government activities.

Negative
aspects electronically delivered public services

 

There is no doubt that
technology is capable of turning bureaucracy inside out and that putting
government services onto online platforms can serve for the sake of the
society. Not only it promotes management systems to be more open and turns
governance tools towards more responsive ways, but it also helps to increase
the involvement rate of public administration in democratic processes. But with
all the benefits that electronic government is capable to offer it is still far
away from perfection. Among all those drawbacks that offering electronic
services may have, some will definitely be as follows: No face to face communication – despite of all the benefits of
getting information electronically and thus saving time, money and effort,
replacement of face to face communication with digital ones can become a
constraint in suggestion of alternative actions to those citizens who are not
satisfied with the e-Services or don’t trust them; Lack of equality in public access to the internet – reliability of
web-based information can also be identified as a disadvantage, especially when
it comes to some areas of countries don’t have full internet cover (though this
can’t be perceived as a strong constraint in 
Estonian and Singaporean  cases,
as almost the whole territories of  the
countries are provided with the full internet coverage); Lack or absence in e-Literacy skills – not having appropriate
skills for using internet can become a barrier for citizens to have access on
state services. In such cases services become useless as potential users don’t
have potential of deploying them. This especially relates to those generations
who are less internet friendly than the millennials. Solutions that have been
rooted in people’s habits for decades are very difficult to change (for
example: logging into state web systems by using ID card, mobile-ID or bank
codes at first was a new challenge for Estonians, and probably is still a big
deal for the citizens of those countries who have never used e-Services and
this is why, usually, governments also provide alternative ways of deploying
state services for citizens along with the e-based ones.);  Possible
risk of internet connection failure – 
while talking about e-Services, one should always be aware of possible
threats of traffic interruption, as there is no constant guarantee of flawless
access to internet. But behind this there may be a hidden agenda in malign
government’s intentions – as theoretically, in case of any “animus injurandi”,
government will always have an excuse of weak internet, bad traffic, etc.; Risks of unemployment – while through electronic
governance efficiency seems more easily achievable, one of the components that
this efficiency compounds of is having less people behind the office desks;
this approach seems attractive from the side of cost reduction, but the truth
behind it is that dozens of people may stay unemployed and unfortunately not
everyone is so flexible to regain new, marketable skills; In a broader scale, potential
implications, drawbacks of implementation of e-Services is also a vulnerability to cybercrimes (risks of
phishing, various malware, etc.) which therefore leads to increased costs of governments
to buy the strongest equipment and invest in the IT specialists in order to
defend the data (in this regard, “Tallinn is in a strong position to counter
one common objection, that e-commerce and e-government put data at risk,
because it has developed an incredibly secure system, based on blockchain,
since suffering the world’s first major cyberattack in 2007” – says in his
article for “The World Weekly” Joe Wallance); The latter topic is followed by Privacy issues– regardless of all the
benefits of IT based provision of services, digitalization of operations leads
to more unsecured privacy, as data gets easier to be stolen. Access to them
becomes available to the hackers all over the world; this is why a lot of funds
under the e-Governance must be spend on building the cyber security activities;
Hyper surveillance – on one hand,
electronic interaction may seem very attractive in terms of cost-effectiveness,
convenience, speed, etc., but on the other hand, implementation of electronic
tools into management and public administration processes can lead to misusing
important personal data of individuals as the government officials gain full control
over the private information of their citizens.

I’d characterize
surveillance and trustworthiness issue as a primary issues while implementation
of electronic government as there may be a great deal of hidden agendas of
governments regarding using their citizens’ personal data.  Despite of all the limitations that
governments may have under internal or international legislative frameworks
chances of malign governance are always in agenda and can’t be excluded. I deem
it relevant to pay more attention to the following discussion of the latter constraint.

Is the
Big Brother really that bad?

 

“Big brother is
watching you!” – This maxim may not be only attractive words from brilliant novel
of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – but it may also be the concept that
on a daily basis applies the present reality of citizens all over the world.  Eye-opening aspect here may be that under
electronic collection and procession of data governments automatically also gain
control all over the personal data.

Having huge amounts of
data collecting and moving among citizens and various entities makes data liquid.
In Estonian case data movement among state-private sector-citizen systems
relies on a fundamental principle to protect people’s privacy: “It is always
the citizen who owns his or her data and retains the right to control access to
that data” (Tamkivi, 2014 ). So, citizens possess control over their personal
data – only if they provide access to personal data it can be used by state
authorities, and in such cases, through the personal online portals, they  can always track the history – who uses their
data, for what means, etc.; Secure access to records guarantees data owners to
be aware of accession of their personal information.  “Citizens have the right to query any access
transaction, and the individual responsible has a month to respond. It is illegal
to view someone’s data without appropriate reasons. Penalties include prison
terms” (Sorell, 2015). “In those scenarios where citizens can’t legally block
the state from seeing their information, as with Estonian e-Policemen using
real-time terminals – they at least get a record of who accessed their data and
when. If an honest citizen learns that an official has been snooping on them
without a valid reason, the person can file an inquiry and get the official
fired” (Tamkivi, 2014 ).

But these aforementioned
applies to Estonia as the part of the western mindset and of social values
where every individual, their happiness, privacy and personal freedom as well
as freedom of speech counts more than any other value in the society, but what
happens in cases of a governmental systems where hidden agendas of
authoritarian influence on society is still exists? Where government interests
come on the first place? – yet we can say that government reflects the needs of
its citizens and thus government and public interests are equal,  but is the same on an individual level? What
may happen if government has to generate welfare on a national level? Maybe in
such scenarios interests of individual citizens must be sacrificed to attain
systematic state welfare? – in this regard, discussing the Singaporean government  can help us see several interesting aspects
of the subject.

First, unlike Estonian
counterparts, personal data of the citizens is available for the government officials
24/7. “In a law-and order society, definition “order” encompasses everything
and may even be everyone. In the curious mix of democratic and authoritarian
regimes a paternalistic government ensures people’s basic needs – housing,
education, security – in return for almost reverential deference”
(Harris,2014). Under the excuse that through various surveillance tools having
total control over their citizens helps government predict and sometimes even
prevent various economic, political, social disasters, Singaporean public
authorities possess control all over the citizen-owned data and they don’t
carry responsibility of letting know the citizens when or for what purposes
their data is used. But the curious fact in this case is that citizens of
Singapore also don’t seem to be bothered with privacy issues, as in return they
get to be the inhabitants of one of the safest country in the world that
provides citizens with lowest violence rate, with high level of police
reliability, least homicide rates, etc. As we saw it from the RAHS case
(Harris,2014), mass surveillance systems can really be used as the tools for
scenario planning means on national security level. And yet, probably every
Singaporean will agree that national security and public safety are above all and
in favor of all those aforementioned benefits, citizens don’t really mind their
data to be used by state Authorities.

Well, here we get to
came to the point where we have to question the topic of trustworthiness – Is
citizens’ data really secured even in the most democratic countries? What happens
when government needs users’ data? Do they always ask for permission? Under the
self-maintenance of all the electronic systems can the government itself be the
honest guarantor of the transparency? – In such case, what is the result that
we face? – Maybe the fact that government happens to be the creator and
executor of the “Checks and balances” principle itself. What if from the
ethical prospective Singaporean government is even more honest towards its
citizens than the western counterparts in regards of data usage as it does not
hide its real means? What if the citizens of the most advanced democratic
countries simply “take the ostrich view” and believe that nobody but only they
have the total control over their digital assets? Answers to these questions
are the subjects for the future discussions.

 

 

 

Summary

 

To sum up, one thing
that we can totally be sure about is that nobody has the capacity to prevent the
future from happening, thus we can’t prevent dispassion of electronic
governance as it really is the future. So the main task of all governments should
be approaching towards those above-discussed disadvantages as if they were
challenges for future improvement and turning those constraints into strong
sides.  Technology has taken a dominant
place not only on an individual level, but also on a state one, so having IT
influenced, digital governments is an inevitable part of the future. And
striving for showing off the benefits that IT innovation-driven public administration
systems can have on society, along with the better transparency,
accountability, honesty and integrity should become the driving force for
future development.