E-Government and Digital Divide in Developing Countries

E-Government and Digital Divide in Developing Countries

Udo Richard Averweg (eThekwini Municipality and University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch207
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Abstract

The transition of the global economy from an industrial focus to one based on knowledge and information presents numerous opportunities and challenges to countries, especially those in the developing world (Cape IT Initiative, 2003). The government sector (and especially the local government sector) needs to embrace information and communication technologies (ICTs) that enable it to operate more efficiently and communicate better with its citizens. ICTs encompass all technologies that facilitate the processing and transfer of information and communication services (United Nations, 2002). Many factors affect how local governments (i.e., municipalities) in developing countries access ICTs. In order to bridge the digital divide?which separates the technology ‘haves’ from the technology ‘have nots’?it is necessary to gauge where citizens are in terms of ICT adoption, that is, their e-readiness. E-readiness can be defined in terms of availability of ICT infrastructure, the accessibility of ICT to the general citizen population, and the effect of the legal and regulatory framework on ICT use in, for example, an e-government strategy. eThekwini Municipality (2003), in the city of Durban in the developing country of South Africa, sees the e-government strategy and its Web site at http://www.durban.gov.za as important management tools for improved citizen service delivery and communication. The objective of this article is to report, as an example, on the survey of ICT and information needs of a selected metropolitan municipal area (eThekwini Municipality in South Africa). Such a report maybe useful to other municipalities in developing countries for their egovernment strategies. This article is organized as follows. The background to e-government and the digital divide are discussed. eThekwini Municipality in South Africa is then described. The research goals are outlined, the research method and data gathering are discussed, the survey results and discussion are given, and future trends for implementing an e-government strategy in municipalities in developing countries are suggested. Finally, a conclusion is given.
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Introduction

The development of electronic or digital government (e-government) has varied throughout the world. Although we give it the same name, we know from different studies that, for example, the concept of Information Society can be interpreted in different ways in different cultural settings (Jaeger, Slack, & Williams, 2000; Sancho, 2002). This article provides a general outline of the development of e-government in the West and is primarily based on European and Scandinavian experiences.

It is only possible to give an introduction to e-government if we can define what we are talking about. E-government is still a rather new concept, but most people agree that e-government includes the following features:

  • E-government is based on information and communication technologies (ICTs).

  • E-government is taking place in public administration.

  • E-government concerns electronic ways to perform all kinds of internal administrative tasks.

  • E-government also concerns the communication between the public administration and the citizens and other actors in the surrounding society (Jaeger, 2003: 50).

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Background

Based on the first part of this definition the history of e-government starts in the beginning of the 1960s when the magnetic tape replaced the punched card. During the 1960s and 1970s big central databases were built and were run on big mainframe computers. The databases mostly contained administrative data from fields where the law and regulations were clear and there was a large amount of data to process. In this period, large registers were formed, and software systems for the government of the economy including salaries, taxes and pensions were developed. These activities were often run centrally and the results were delivered to the relevant authority on paper.

When we turn to the second feature in the definition, we have to include the development of the public administration as well. During the 1980s and 1990s most Western countries had experienced a profound modernization of their public administration. At first, this modernisation was marked by reforms that have since been collectively labelled New Public Management. According to Rhodes (1997), New Public Management involves two different types of initiatives, the first of which relates to the management itself. These initiatives include a focus on management by objectives, clear standards, and evaluations of the quality of service, while at the same time granting greater attentiveness towards the users of the public service in question. The other type of initiative deals with the introduction of economic incentive structures. This involves the dissection of the public administration in demarcated services, contracting out some services, and other services are sought arranged in competitive-like situations by establishing quasi-markets in which the consumers of the services are provided with an opportunity to choose between different services.

These alterations have had a more or less unintended consequence—the emergence of new policy networks around the provision of public services (Heffen, Kickert & Thomassen, 2000; Rhodes, 1997; Stoker, 1998). These policy networks draw new agents into the management of the tasks in question, including agents from the business community as well as from civil society. Now we see private companies carrying out publicly-commissioned services. We also see civic groups in the local community; NGOs, sports clubs or interest organizations take over different tasks of more social and carrying kind, which were earlier defined as public. (Again we have to be aware of different traditions in different countries but especially in the Scandinavian countries; many of these tasks have been defined as public whereas in other Western countries the family and local community have played a much bigger part in taking care of these activities.) These agents are now engaged in relations with the public administration in collective, binding policy networks. This general development is often described in terms of the transformation of public sector regulation from government to governance.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Municipal Information Society (MIS): A term used for the innovative use of ICT to improve the internal operation of a municipality, as well as its communication and collaboration with citizens, the private sector, and civil society in a municipal area.

E-Government: The process by which government communication and administration processes are made available using information and communication technologies (ICTs).

Digital Divide: A social, economic, and political fracture.

E-Readiness: Defined in terms of availability of ICT infrastructure, the accessibility of ICT to the general citizen and business organization population, and the effect of the legal and regulatory framework on ICT use in, for example, an e-government strategy.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs): An umbrella term for a range of technological applications such as computer hardware and software, digital broadcast technologies, telecommunications technologies, and electronic information resources.

E-Governance: Refers to a government’s inventiveness to electronically govern areas under its jurisdiction.

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