The Same Wine but in New Bottles. Public E-Services Divide and Low Citizens’ Satisfaction: An Example from Lebanon

The Same Wine but in New Bottles. Public E-Services Divide and Low Citizens’ Satisfaction: An Example from Lebanon

Antoine Harfouche (Université Paris-Dauphine, France)
Copyright: © 2010 |Pages: 33
DOI: 10.4018/jegr.2010070106
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When introducing public e-services, the Lebanese government predicted that it would reduce inequality between citizens (OMSAR, 2002). However, the results of this research prove that this will not be the case, and the introduction of the virtual channel of services delivery system will create a public e-services divide. In response to the research questions: “what is an e-services divide?” and “what are its antecedents and consequences?”, this cross-sectional explanatory research shows that the public e-services divide will separate citizen’s who have access to ICTs, who have the skills to use ICTs, and who accept use of public e-services from the others. The public e-services divide will result from the e-access divide, the e-skills divide, and from the public e-services acceptance divide, which will lead to lower citizen satisfaction.
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1. Introduction

Governments around the world are introducing the virtual channel of public service delivery system (UNDESA, 2008). This channel allows for the connected citizens the possibility to benefit from integrated e-services that eliminate boundaries (Thomas & Streib, 2003), eliminate paperwork and physical transport (Steyaert, 2000; West, 2004), reduce response time (Dimitrova & Chen, 2006, p. 173), and increase flexibility and personalization which puts the citizen’s needs first (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2009; Thomas & Streib, 2003).

These e-services are delivered through the Internet and computers. However, citizens who do not have access to the Internet and to Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), who do not have the skills to use Internet and ICTs, and/or who do not accept to use government e-services cannot benefit from these advantages (UNPAN, 2005; Van Dijk et al., 2008; Weber et al., 2003). Therefore, the introduction of e-services will create a public e-services divide.

The e-services divide can result mainly from three types of inequalities: (1) inequality in the access to ICTs and to e-services, called the “e-access divide” (e.g., Bélanger & Carter, 2009; Helbig et al., 2009; van Dijk et al., 2008), (2) inequality in the ability to use ICT and e-services among those who have access, called the “e-skills divide” (e.g., Bélanger & Carter, 2009; Dewan & Riggins, 2005; Hargittai, 2002; Helbig et al., 2009; Tapscott, 1998; Van Dijk, 2006; Van Dijk et al., 2008), and (3) inequality between those who will accept to use e-services and those who will not, that we call “e-services acceptance divides” (adapted from Dwivedi et al., 2009; Helbig et al., 2009).

The implementation of e-government in developing countries can lead to a system where the greatest benefits from public online services will accrue to persons of high socio-economic status and education who may use their resources to employ the online services sooner and more productively than their less privileged peers (Basu, 2004; Ciborra, 2005, p. 267; Dada, 2006; Grundén, 2009; Hart-Teeter, 2003; Norris, 2001; Shelley et al., 2004; Thomas & Streib, 2003; UNPAN, 2005). In this case, inequalities continue and even increase (Hart-Teeter, 2003; Shelley et al., 2004; UNPAN, 2005).

The aim of this paper is to explain the divide that results from the implementation of the online public services. We chose Lebanon, because like the majority of the developing countries only a small percentage of the population uses the Internet (only 26.28 percent in 2008). As a result, citizens who do not have an e-access, e-skills, and/or who do not accept to use government e-services cannot benefit from the public e-services advantages. This is a disturbing fact, because Lebanon cannot afford to wastefully spend large amounts of money for such an investment, especially if it will lead to a system where only privileged segments of the population may have access to these e-services.

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