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E-government & public sector reforms

The goal of efficiency and effectiveness of government functions is the main driver of e-government. The potential of information technology to store, process, retrieve and disseminate vast amounts of information promises more transparency in government operations. This in turn can make public agencies more accountable and reduce corruption. These were also the goals of public sector reform programmes such as ‘New Public Management’ and ‘Good Governance agenda’ which were already under implementation when e-government gained prominence during the 1990s. E-government was expected to accelerate the ongoing public sector reforms aimed at making the public sector leaner, cost-effective and accountable. It was also expected that in the process e-government would fundamentally transform the relationship between citizens and the state.

More than a decade’s experience with e-government has however shown a more complicated picture. One clear outcome of e-government is that it has contributed immensely to citizen’s access to public services by offering services online and through public kiosks-round the clock seven days a week. There is some evidence that e-government has resulted in increased efficiency in terms of costs. There is also evidence that e-government has reduced transaction cost for citizens in dealing with public authorities. These efficiency gains, however, are not universal. Studies have shown that deployment and maintenance of e-government infrastructure, often alongside the traditional brick and mortar systems, increased the cost of operations rather than reducing it. Concerning reform objectives such as greater accountability or reduction in corruption, which are political in nature, e-government had a limited positive impact. On the other hand case studies from developing countries have shown that despite the use of information technology, incidence of corruption continues to be high in routine government operations such as land registration, licensing and procurement.

Also, there is no clear evidence in support of e-government fostering a new kind of relationship between the citizens and the government agencies. Empirical research has shown that e-government only helps reinforce the existing power relationships. However, one important development which may have some implications for the citizen-state relationship is an increase in the use of private sector intermediaries in the delivery of public services. As part of e-government, private sector performs a wide array of functions such as strategic advice, training, infrastructure, hardware and software provision. ICT has also enabled outsourcing of a number of functions traditionally performed by the public bureaucracy to private sector. The implications of these developments for the long-term relationship between the citizens and the state, and also for the accountability of the system require detailed investigation.

Recommended reading

Impact assessment study of e-government projects in India
S. Bhatnagar / Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad 2007
Over the last decade various Indian states have implemented a number of e-government projects but there has not been any systematic study to assess their impact. This study fills this gap to some extent by employing a general framewor...
Information technology and administrative reform: will e-government be different?
K.L. Kraemer; J.L. King / School of Information, University of Michigan 2005
Focussing on the use of information technology (IT) in the US, this paper argues that IT remains a useful instrument of incremental administrative change, but it is no more likely to bring about administrative reforms today than it wa...
E-Government in Africa: prospects, challenges and practices
Y. Kitaw / Swiss Federal Institute of Technology 2006
In an increasingly globalised world, where information technology has become one of the key determinants of growth, many African countries are facing new challenges as a result of the emerging information age. This paper explores the ...
E-government: towards the e-bureaucratic form?
A. Cordella / Journal of Information Technology 2007
E-government policies when designed along the line of New Public Management (NPM) ideology are aimed at reforming the organisation of the public administration, and reducing the role of bureaucratic institutions in favour of market-li...
E-government and state reform: policy dilemmas for Europe
M. Baptisa / Electronic Journal of E-Government 2005
Since the 1990’s, a transnational e-government agenda has emerged resulting from strategic initiatives taken by a number of leading countries, multinational corporations, the European Union and international organisations. This ...