Digital Government in Remote Locations
Janet Toland (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand), Fuatai Purcell (Samoa National ICT Committee, Ministry of Finance, Samoa) and Sid Huff (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2008
All governments face difficulties in trying to ensure the full participation of every citizen. The further a citizen is located from the centre of power and administration, such as a capital city, the less engaged they are likely to be. This phenomenon can be observed at both a national and an international level. At the global level countries located in close proximity to major world markets are more likely to have well-developed e-government services, than more marginally located countries, particularly those with low population densities. Within individual countries, there is typically a marked variation between rural and urban areas both in terms of access to available infrastructure and uptake by citizens (Parker, 2000). In general, the more remote the location and the smaller the population density, the lower the rate of participation will be. This can be observed in even in the most highly developed, highly populated countries; for example, the Japanese government struggles to provide the often elderly residents of remote islands with government services (Hayashi & Hori, 2002). In a country that is less developed without easy access to major world markets, the effects on rural citizens are intensified. The small island developing states of the South Pacific are some of the most remotely located nations in the world; their economies are relatively underdeveloped and they have low population densities. By researching the difficulties faced in attempting to implement e-government in some of the most distant corners of the earth, lessons can be learned about the way that information and communication technologies (ICTs) can overcome the barriers of geography. The insights gained from this exercise are relevant worldwide; as many economically developed countries also have pockets of population that are hard to reach. A counter argument is that some of these differences may be attributable to a country’s level of economic development rather than it’s actual geographic location. A notable example of a remotely located country that has a highly developed e-government system is New Zealand. Despite having only four million inhabitants, and being placed on the other side of the globe from the major world markets of Europe and the USA, in 2001 New Zealand was nominated by the UN as the country with the third most advanced e-government system in the world (Boyle & Nicholson, 2003). ICTs now make it possible to connect a citizen in even the most far-flung location directly to central government services. This article investigates the status of e-government in remote locations. Representatives from ten different South Pacific Islands were surveyed to discover what they perceived as the main barriers and opportunities in developing e-government in each of their different countries. The island states of the South Pacific have developed independently and are culturally diverse. However, they all share some common features with regards to adoption of ICTs. In order to appreciate these factors more fully, one country, Samoa, has been used as an example. By comparing Samoa with New Zealand, lessons can be learned about how to utilise ICT to overcome the disadvantages of distance and low population. E-government is sometimes viewed as a subset of e-commerce. However, it needs to be remembered that there are substantive differences between the private and public sectors. Governments have a duty to make sure that services are available to all citizens, and usually the citizens who are the most needy are those who have the least access to government services (Curthoys & Crabtree, 2003). Often this is because such citizens live in remote rural locations. The public sector is a law-based system, and government includes many processes that are different from processes encountered in private sector settings such as retail or banking, for example: complex decision making; negotiations between stakeholders; policy formulation; and democratic participation (Lenk, 2002). An example is the highly contentious issue of land ownership in the South Pacific; the use of e-government could potentially help land boards to demonstrate a fair and transparent approach to this issue.