E-Government, A Helpful Tool
While reading a book on developing countries, I came across a significant fact. In India, information technology has been applied to increase transparency and accountability.
Perhaps I'm too much of a cynic, but I've always considered things like "e-government" to be mere shams and excuses for wasting tax revenue. E-government was something for first world countries, not for third world countries where the government is dominated by "no action, talk only" (NATO) politicians.
In India, though, e-government has actually been exploited by some Indian states to combat inefficient and opaque government. Instead of being used to create more red tape, more loopholes for errant civil servants to collect money on the side, information technology has become a tool to keep government efficient.
To monitor the state bureaucracy, for instance, one governor holds regular e-conferences with civil servants, to which reporters are invited. Performance targets are set, and if they are not met, the civil servant responsible is grilled and held accountable.
For those who want to get something done, the public can settle their business without face-to-face meetings with unhelpful civil servants. Internet kiosks are set up for people to submit paperwork, etc.
The result is an efficient and expedient bureaucracy. Why can't we have the same in other countries? Why can't, say, Malaysia have such a brilliant implementation of e-government?
I suspect that this is partially because the right culture is necessary for the goals of transparency and efficiency to be achieved. E-government is a means to an end, not an end in itself; countries that make it an end in itself, such as Malaysia, thus don't realise anything close to the full benefits of information technology.
For example, would there be efficiency if the governor of that state in India did not want to grill his subordinates? Would there be transparency if he refused to open the proceedings to the public? I think not.
At the end of the day, e-government is a tool — a very helpful tool, but still a tool nonetheless. It needs the right men to wield it. If a country wants to realise the benefits of e-government, it needs the right leaders to use it wisely.