Sei sulla pagina 1di 7

ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT AND DEMOCRACY:

PROMISES AND PERILS

Valentin P. MĂZĂREANU
„Al.I.Cuza” University,
Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Iaşi
e-mail: vali.mazareanu@feaa.uaic.ro

In a time when we wish the existence of 25 hours in a day to be able to


wait at some infernal line in order to pay our tribute to the state; in a time
when we use to call an acquaintance asking their help in bypassing the above
mentioned line; in these times here is the electronic revolution putting its
mark on the public administration.
And the name of this mark is the electronic government, or simply, the e-
Government. Along with this practice comes another one, with a bottom-to-
up approach, the electronic democracy, or simply, e-Democracy.
This paper will try to present some of the ideas behind these two concepts,
also enlighten the promises and perils of being e-governed and living in an e-
democracy.
Key Words: (electronic, democracy, government, information, technology).

INTRODUCTION
It is already clear that the internet has changed all the rules used in business
or even more, has changed our daily life, the way we used to think, to learn, to look
after a piece of information or to interact with other people or institutions.
Today, we see these changes also in public administration. And when we
talk about the mix between IT&C and government and the relation between
government and those who are governed we have to take into consideration two
aspects: the up-to-bottom approach, meaning all the communication channels and
all the policy started by the government and aimed to citizens, companies or other
public institutions; and the bottom-to-up approach, meaning all the electronic
communication channels used by the citizens in order to communicate with other
citizens to debate a government policy, to vote or to propose ideas.

AND THE STATE IS E-GOVERNING US


According to the opinions of many authors1 and proved by the real life the
increasing demand of public services, budget limitation, high cost of personal and

1
Colesca, S.E., Internet în administraţia publică, Editura Economică, 2002, p.9
the new facilities offered by IT&C lead to the emergence of a new concept:
electronic government or e-Government.
This new way of acting means using the power offered by the information
technologies and communications in order to transform the quality, efficiency and
the access to public services. And above all it means the reconfigurations of the
relation between government and the citizen, the latter having now access to
improved consultancy and the possibility to actively participate in the government
process. In professor Ghilic’s wonderful point of view2, e-Government is the right
and specially born government for the information society we all live in, the
government that will work for solving the society problems. And according to the
guide entitled Ghidul de eDemocraţie şi Guvernare Electronică3, the electronic
government means the interactions between government, parliament and other
public institutions on one hand and citizens on the other hand through electronic
facilities.
The process of digitizing a government is a progressive and long-term one, a
process which affects the entire government process. According to Morrison4 the
process of moving a government from brick and mortar to click and go has to go
through the next phases:
- Phase 1: information dissemination and publishing
o developing of websites, list of services and points of contact
o communication has one direction
o developed and managed by individual departments for their use
- Phase 2: official transaction on two directions
o citizens have some restricted rights to publish on websites
o communication has two direction
o some electronic services are developed by the central IT
department
- Phase 3: multi-scope portals
o unique access point to multiple governmental services
o communication has two direction (including monetary
transactions)
o interdepartmental cooperation
- Phase 4: reengineering (reconfiguration) of the portals
o portals allows reconfiguration according to the citizen’s desire
o personalized individual services
o strong interdepartmental cooperation

2
Ghilic-Micu, B., Stoica, M., e-Activităţile în societatea informaţională, Editura Economică, 2002,
p.48
3
Ailioaie, S., Hera, O., Kertesz, S., Ghid de eDemocraţie şi Guvernare Electronică, Ghid realizat
pentru Parlamentul României, Octombrie 2001
4
Morison, J., e-Government: a new architecture of government and a new challenge for learning and
teaching public law, at www.unizar.es/derecho/fyd/lefis/documentos/JMfinaldraft.pdf, accessed in
01.09.2006
- Phase 5: grouping of common services
o the entire government is seen as a whole (and no longer as a entity
with multiple institutions)
o rapid access to information offered by the government sectors
o integrated services leading to modified department strcuture
- Phase 6: the complete integration and transformation
o integrated services at a high level leading to the elimination of the
distance between front-office and back-office
o interactive communications, electronic electing facilities,
electronic debating and political consultancy
o a true revolution in governance
The essence of the electronic government concept is represented by the
improved relation and information flow between public sector and citizens or
business environment. Also, e-Government means services offered through
electronic channels. According to professor Vasilache5 a true electronic
government program is permanently searching to offer digitized information and
services to citizens, business environment, nongovernmental organizations,
ministries and governmental agencies. Even more, the fundamental scope of an
electronic government is to offer responses in a rapid and more secured manner
and to improve the accessibility to the government services.
A complete e-Government solution would offer a response to such requests
6
as (but not limited to):
- unique point of contact for accessing electronic services, 24 hours a day, 7
days a week;
- access point to the digital society;
- reconstruction of citizens’ trust in government;
- acceleration of economic growth;
- establishment of governmental regulations.
There are four main components of the electronic government7:
- the interaction between government and citizen (G2C): it suppose public
services modernization and a close relation with citizens through
information and communications;
- the interaction between government and business environment (G2B): it is
about services offered by the state to private sector through Internet (ex.
Electronic payment of taxes, electronic procurement etc.);
- the interaction between government and public employees (G2E): it is
about solutions adopted in order to increase the efficiency of the internal
environment;
- the interaction between governmental institutions (G2G): it suppose
electronic communications between public institutions.

5
Vasilache, Dan, Plăţi electronice - o introducere, Editura Rosetti-Educaţional, 2004, p.175
6
Colesca, S.E., opcit., p.9
7
Colesca, S.E., opcit., p.11
One of the most important applications of the electronic government is
related to consultation issue. There is a dedicated governance initiative which
emphasizes issues related to participation and consultation. In some countries there
are some rumors about the resurrection of the traditional election system through
the electronic voting systems. And this idea is sustained about the fact that
information technologies and communications have an important potential in
facilitating, strengthening and growing of the participation allowing citizens to
consult before making such a decision as electing someone to represent them in
parliament.
Continuing the above mentioned idea, there are four types of interactions8:
- citizens and those who represent them: this relation needs a efficient dialog
between the two parts; so citizens need to access consultation forums, need
to be informed through newsletters about the campaign of the person they
elected and need to surf a personal website of the elected person;
- political parties: these are very important for the democratic process so
these entities have to use IT&C in order to facilitate the communication
between members but also in order to be close to the people;
- civic society activities: the relation between the civic society and the
government is an important element of the democracy;
- citizens and the government: it is about a relation that facilitates a rapid,
interactive and efficient consultation.

ELECTRONIC DEMOCRACY: A NEW WAY OF LIVING


Unlike the electronic government, the electronic democracy is a bottom-up
approach; it starts from the citizen level and goes to government level.
e-Democracy represents the usage of the electronic channels of
communications by the citizen to communicate with another citizen in order to
debate, to present his disappointments and to make prepositions. So, this concept is
used to describe the usage of the newest communication technologies for growing
the political participation and the political information interchange.
Although the concept officially appeared in the ’80s we can see that there
were preoccupations in this direction even since the end of the ’70s when the
electronic communication channels were first used to lighten the possibility of the
citizens to participate in the political activities9: tele-voting in Hawaii and QUBE
system in Ohio. At the end of the ‘80s some other examples of the usage of IT in
politics appeared: tele-democracy and the electronic commonwealth. In our days
such concepts as virtual parliament, electronic meetings of the council or cyber-
democracy are known and very used by all social classes.
Electronic democracy has many interpretations: for some authors it
represents the chance to resurrect the democracy through the dissemination of the

8
Idem 4
9
Street, J., Electronic Democracy, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences,
Elsevier Ltd., Norwich, 2001, p. 4397
political information; for others represent an electronic agora10 where a chat room
replaces the public space from the past; and for others represents the end of
democracy and the born of the state manipulation through permanent surveillance
of the opinion and political preferences.
Those who criticize this form of democracy have a strong argument against
it in the digital device aspect. We have to admit that the Internet access is limited
and thus the universal access to this form of democracy is limited. Another point of
view is related to the capacity of the technology in use to centralize the power and
not to transfer it. More specific, all the stored data resulted from an electing process
can be used by the authorities in order to survey the citizens activities and
preferences. Such fears are one of the debates related to the fact that some states
wish to control the Internet access. See the UKUSA pact and the Echelon project
for more information about how a group of states can control and monitor all the
data sent via electronic channels (e.g.: emails, web etc.).

ELECTRONIC GOVERNMENT: THE ROMANIAN STORY


The Romanian digital revolution at the governmental level started in 2001;
2002 is the year when the public acquisitions system was lunched (see www.e-
licitatie.ro); and at the end of October 2003 the National Electronic System was
brought to light (see www.e-guvernare.ro). This system seems to be a successful
one, a system that received the best digital content award at the World Summit for
the Information Society, e-Government section11.
As the government itself is saying, the e-Government Internet portal is a
Romanian Government initiative whose purpose is to offer alternatives to
administrative problems, facilitating an easy and rapid access to public services.
The portal is working on hic et nunc principle, being available 24 hours a day, 7
days a week.
According to the developers of this portal12, the government gateway is the
central piece of an interconnected government, facilitating the interaction between
all the government’ departments and between these departments and citizens.
The Romanian e-Government strategy took into considerations such elements as:
- encouraging the competiveness on telecom market;
- the government transformation through IT&C;
- developing an e-procurement portal.
Here is a list of some public services developed by our Ministry of
Communications and Information Technologies (MCTI) in the name of the

10
Street, J., opcit., p. 4397
11
Sistemul electronic naţional dezvoltat de SOFTWIN şi Microsoft a fost premiat la Geneva, la
www.softwin.ro, accessed in 12.01.2005
12
Microsoft Government Gateway, dezvoltat împreună cu SOFTWIN, singurul proiect european de e-
Government nominalizat la Conferinţa Mondială privind Societatea Informaţională, la
www.softwin.ro, accessed in 12.01.2005
electronic government13: multimedia centers for citizens, public employees’
identification through electronic signature and smart cards, cash-flow
management, electronic payment of local taxes, info points, auditing information
system of security and communication, e-job portal, system for video conferences
and so forth.
All these services and many others have as a final scope improving the
citizens’ access to quality services and information. But there is a long road until
all the Romanian citizens would adopt this new way of living: let’s remember that
in 2005 eFinance magazine wrote: although the e-tax payment system is very easy
to use, only 2 people ina Alba Iulia paid their taxes through internet.
And this is a common practice in our days, too.

CONCLUSIONS
We have to accept the incontestable value of the increasingly usage of the
IT&C in the public administration. We can easily access websites of the
governmental agencies and thus being informed about their activities; in the same
manner we can access information about political parties’ policy or electing
campaign policy. We can pay our taxes through Internet, registering a firm or
participating in electronic procurement procedures. We communicate through
forums and weblogs with those we elected and with the future ones.
In short, we pay our taxes through e-Tax, we assist at e-(political) Campaign,
we live in an e-Democracy and we are ruled by an e-Government. But along with
the benefits come the perils. And we have already mentioned some of them above.
But the list is open; and here are others: the impossibility of some social categories
to access the services offered by the government; security issues relating the
confidentiality of personal data; immoral content of information flow.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. Ailioaie, S., Hera, O., Kertesz, S., Ghid de eDemocraţie şi Guvernare Electronică, Ghid
realizat pentru Parlamentul României, Octombrie 2001
2. Colesca, S.E., Internet în administraţia publică, Editura Economică, 2002
3. Ghilic-Micu, B., Stoica, M., e-Activităţile în societatea informaţională, Editura
Economică, 2002
4. Morison, J., e-Government: a new architecture of government and a new challenge for
learning and teaching public law, la
www.unizar.es/derecho/fyd/lefis/documentos/JMfinaldraft.pdf, accesat în 01.09.2006
5. Street, J., Electronic Democracy, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral
Sciences, Elsevier Ltd., Norwich, 2001, p. 4397.
6. Vasilache, Dan, Plăţi electronice - o introducere, Editura Rosetti-Educaţional, 2004,
p.175
7. ***, Sistemul electronic naţional dezvoltat de SOFTWIN şi Microsoft a fost premiat la
Geneva, at www.softwin.ro, accessed in 12.01.2005

13
For other pilot-project see the Ministry of Comuniocations and Information Technology website at
http://www.mcti.ro
8. ***, Microsoft Government Gateway, dezvoltat împreună cu SOFTWIN, singurul proiect
european de e-Government nominalizat la Conferinţa Mondială privind Societatea
Informaţională, at www.softwin.ro, accessed in 12.01.2005

Aparut in Mazareanu, P.V., Electronic Governance and democracy: promises and perils, in
Grama Ana (coordonator), Sisteme integrate colaborative pentru afaceri mici si mijlocii,
Editura Universitatii "Alexandru Ioan Cuza", Iasi. 2007. p.69