Apr 4 - 10, 20

Electronic government or e-government is a key initiative of the government to improve the performance of its various functionaries. The ability to improve citizen's access to services has made e-government an attractive investment for government organizations. Transactions such are filing taxes online can now be conducted online, quickly and efficiently. Many of the public sector organizations are still busy in learning and adapting to new technology. Good, reliable, and trustworthy services can only be built around the needs of the citizens.

One of the underlined objectives is that government services should be socially inclusive. This means all citizens must have access to the services. This also means that citizens must have the ability to use the system confidently. This poses enormous challenge for the government not only to have ready access to the system but adequate level of ICT literacy among the masses.

In developing e-government services, the readiness of citizens to use self-service plays an important role. This requires assistance in accessing services either at the front desk or over telephone and internet. The citizens cannot benefit if they have to enter too much information at their own or if they are not technology savvy.

The e-government also refers to the use of information technology within various departments for achieving the immediate benefits of adequate disclosure for public benefit, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth and/or cost reduction. This poses challenges for the public sector.

Citizens and businesses have high expectations of accessible and efficient service and administration. Citizens are increasingly expecting government units to perform like commercial entities. This also demands constant up gradation of technology as well as level of services. E-government provides many opportunities to improve the quality of services being offered to the public.

This also requires changing the way people and businesses interact with the government. At present, almost all the organizations maintain their websites. More and more people access these websites from their homes and place of work. However, it is also a fact that millions of people do not have access to the technology. However, there is growing realization that traditional and over the counter transactions cost more than those conducted via the internet. Counter transactions use more of staff time, paper and other supplies than electronic transactions.

Customers also have time constraints as commuting time and distances to work have increased. Often customers are not able to visit government offices during normal working hours. Customers want to access these services at their own convenience, particularly after the working hours. They also want them 24/7. E-government concept is being deployed both in developed and developing countries as an enabler to accelerating processes, delivering higher level of services, increasing transparency and accountability.

Nadra has emerged as one of the most efficient organizations. It has not only helped in developing credible database on the population but the use of available information is also helping other entities. Two of the largest beneficiaries of this database are commercial banks and tax collecting offices. One of the serious problems faced by the banks has been submission of fake identity cards by the clients, leading to failure in recovery in case of default. Use of identity card numbers given in the profile of an accountholder helps in determining the creditworthiness through search of the name in the list of defaulters. This also enables the banks to know how much loan has been borrowed by the person from various banks and on credit cards.

Till lately, keeping track of income and tax paid by an individual has been a big problem. Issue of national tax numbers on the basis of identity card numbers has made the job easier and also helps in identifying the tax evaders. However, the system operates efficiently only if transactions are conducted through banking channels. However, when people indulge in cash transactions it is very difficult to tack the person making the payment and the beneficiary. Though the law of the land requires payments above certain amounts to be made through cheques, millions of rupees paid/received are in cash. It is also on record that information about hundreds and thousands of accountholders and taxpayers is still very scanty, promoting tax evasions. Lately, efforts were made to computerize handling of import/export shipments at seaports and airports. Having faced many snags users preferred to use manual system. While the benefit of doubt could go to the users, terming the system inefficient, there remains a need to remove the bugs and keep on updating the system.

Though, many of the ministries, departments and public sector entities have launched their websites, the biggest complaint is that information is not updated for months, with one exception State Bank of Pakistan. It not only has an elaborate data on banking but also on trade and industry. Almost all of the banking circulars are available on website and updated regularly.

Interestingly, an elaborate database has been available with Nadra but Election Commission of Pakistan is still manually preparing voter list, which is often full of horrendous mistakes, from incorrect name of the cardholders to the names of bogus voters. The list often includes the names of persons who died years ago and does not include the names of those attaining age to become eligible voters in the recent past. While it is easy to malign the government offices, public is also responsible for not getting the name included in the list or getting the names of deceased removed from the list.

Let everyone understand the point very clearly that it will not be possible to upgrade/improvise the systems and information available unless people realize the important of it. The example of cancellation of SIMs issued on fake documents has not only saved the users but also helped the quality of service of cellular phone operators. However, a lot still remains to be done that too so expeditiously.