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Challenges for e-government

Almost unknown a decade and half ago, e-government is a prominent concept today in both popular and academic discussions on governance reforms. At the same time, initial expectations about e-government’s transformative potential have undergone a critical evaluation. Studies have repeatedly shown that the diffusion of e-government has been slower than expected and the governments are not making full use of the available technology for reforming governance. Wherever adopted, the impact of e-government has been only incremental rather than transformative.

A number of challenges have limited the reach and impact of e-government. Several social, economic and political barriers constrain the scope of transformation and restrict the ability of policy makers to make effective use of new technology. The two most commonly cited constraints are digital divide and the political nature of public sector reforms.

Universal access to the internet is still far away in many countries. In some countries significant proportion of population cannot afford to access the technology even when it is available. The UN e-government survey-2008 notes that as a proportion of monthly income, internet access in the United States is 250 times cheaper than in Nepal and 50 times cheaper than in Sri Lanka. In the United States, 50 per cent of the people use the internet compared to a global average of 6.7 per cent. In Indian sub-continent, it is a mere 0.4 percent. Studies have shown that even in developed countries online transactional systems have achieved modest and, in many cases, extremely low usage levels. Governance reforms literature shows that bringing openness to public sector agencies and improving bureaucratic accountability often meet with stiff resistance as they require substantial changes in the existing power relations. These political dynamics partly explain why e-government projects which have governance reforms as their principal target do not impact the system beyond achieving politically neutral goals such as improved access and increased efficiency. E-governance will continue to advance but its pace, spread and impact will be determined by the extent of technology diffusion and the pressure of public demand for reforms.

Recommended reading

United Nations e-government survey 2008: from e-government to connected governance
UN 2008
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