23 OCTOBER 2002

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E-Transition: Modernising Governments

Finance Minister John Dalli was recently in London for the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Meeting. Mr Dalli chaired and addressed a private-public dialogue session on e-Transition - Modernising Governments, organised by the Commonwealth Business Council. Following are extracts from his speech


The advent of electronic business and electronic government, despite the bust of the New Economy, is now at a stage where electronic transition is neither a temporary fad nor, perhaps, the panacea envisaged to be a short two years ago. It is a powerful medium and leverage that will indeed transform organisations to allow them to better meet their respective mandates.

In terms of government – which, in the most part, whether at central or local level, continue to be involved in service delivery – electronic government, indeed, provides a powerful medium that will improve a citizen’s quality of life. E-Government, provides us with the opportunity to place the citizen at the core of the business of government, by enabling the citizen to seek and obtain a self-service of a wide range of public services any time, from any medium, at any place.

In providing the ‘entrée’ to this morning’s session I wish to share with you Malta’s e-government implementation programme which constitutes one of the fundamental cornerstones of the Public Service Reform initiative currently underway.

It is important to state that, in my opinion, two premises must underpin any programme to attain e-government. Firstly, e-government is not about technology. E-Government is about the change of behaviour and the organisation of structures and entities in the way traditional government business interacts with its stakeholders. The introduction of the technology aspect of e-government is, perhaps, the easiest aspect of this transition. The most challenging aspect is integration of the technology in the nature of government to ensure that government delivers, and delivers effectively. This brings with it fundamental institutional and behavioural change.

In this regard, my Government’s efforts to introduce e-government is subordinated to the ultimate objective of delivering a Public Service that is indeed efficient and cost-effective and delivers high quality services to its user base. Therefore we are not just seeking to transform traditional service delivery to its electronic format as this only continues to maintain a point to point interface. Rather, our strategy is based on the understanding that e-government allows us to attain virtual government – in that functions that are traditionally dispersed (physically, organisationally, etc) can be brought together and thereby render possible the horizontalisation of service delivery.

This thrust will ensure that the citizen will have one single gateway to services he or she wishes to access, authenticated by a single registration and security regime, wherein access is provided to logically intertwined services that could be triggered by a single transaction. Thus, the transaction to register a company will automatically electronically trigger the necessary Inland Revenue, Social Security, VAT, activities that the registrant in completing such a transaction would otherwise need to activate on a point to point basis. Indeed, achieving ‘No Stop’ service.

The second major premise is that the transition to e-Government requires an integrated approach if it is to be successfully attained in terms of the technology environment that must be applied. The citizen seeks services from ‘government’ – irrespective whether this is the Public Service; the Public Sector; the corporations; the quangos; the agencies; etc. A seamless approach to e-government, however, requires that every entity of government must be in a position to electronically talk to one another. In essence, this militates very strongly the need for the establishment of a corporate architectural framework and related standards to ensure the attainment of inter-operability, consistency and coherence.

My Government is today in a position where such inter-operability is in fact in place across the Public Service, and steps are now underway to bring in the broader public sector into this connectivity infrastructure. It is acknowledged that maintaining coherence is difficult in that forward-looking organisations are disgruntled at the restraints that a co-ordinated strategy places on them. Yet, such restraint is essential, for the cost of retrofitting, particular for a nation such as ours, is far too expensive. In order to maintain this coherence, funding for e-government has been separated from separate IT and IS initiatives and placed within a central e-government unit within the Ministry of Justice and Local Government – our political sponsor for the e-government initiative.

E-Government is still in an embryonic phase – albeit moving at an exponential speed. The danger of adopting the wrong strategic thrust is very real; resulting in not only expensive forays that flop, but in tainting the credibility and the confidence of the user community in the e-government framework that is being established. This is a matter that we have paid considerable attention to. In fact, we believed the correct approach to attain successful e-government first time was to seek a public – private partnership wherein the risks and rewards are shared.

Because of its size and the fact that Malta as a sovereign nation has the same similar demands in terms of its governance as those of far larger nation states the e-government partnership given an opportunity to the private sector partner to pilot in a "laboratory" environment various ‘end to end’ e-government solutions. For example the implementation of a data protection or an electronic commerce regime or of an authentication and authorisation framework is as complex in Malta as it is elsewhere; - yet, its implementation process is simpler, because size renders such implementation to be attained far more quickly and completely than in larger countries.

I am pleased to state that only this month we have reached agreement with an HP led Consortium to establish a partnership vehicle to managed the implementation process of e-government. The partnership will be governed by the establishment of a limited liability company wherein HP will hold 51% of the equity and the Government the remaining 49%, albeit with a series of consensus rights. Following an interim six month period, if successful, the Government will enter into a seven year relationship with the HP Consortium wherein it will transfer the technology risk to the Consortium whilst adopting a risk – reward financing formula constituted of convenience charging; transaction charging; direct government investment or a hybrid, thereby ensuring that the generation of demand in the use of e-services is as much of interest to the Consortium partner as it is to Government.

There are two final issues that I wish to make reference to. The first is that e-government is, ultimately, very much dependent on establishing confidence and trust in the electronic interaction between government and the user community. Yet, measures developed for conventional business transactions are not necessarily adequate to provide trust in electronic commerce. To what extent, for example, does an electronic document hold the same weight as a conventional signed paper or original record? The introduction of a strong electronic commerce legislative framework is mandatory.

Nevertheless, we strongly believe that the form of legislative framework applied is also important. Given the constraints of parliamentary time, a legislation that requires amendments, or worse overhauling, due to changes in the detail and the criteria is not sustainable in this regard due to the fast evolutionary changes underway. In our case, we adopted enabling legislation to ensure a framework that addresses the key business and legal issues, thus rendering it flexible to respond quickly to changes through the faster track of subsidiary legislation.

The other element of trust and confidence is ensuring the integrity and protection of a person’s personal data. Yet, this generates a paradox in the electronic transition to e-government – for virtual integration of services to achieve the triggered and horizantalisation results I referred to earlier, is only achievable if there is one source of personal data and that personal data is shareable. The introduction of data protection legislation in terms of Directive 95/46 of the European Commission renders such integration difficult – and hence limits the potential benefits of e-government.

In Malta we are seeking to attain this, within the parameters of the recently introduced data protection legislation, in two ways. Firstly, by the introduction of a Registry Act that, amongst others, establishes the specificity and criteria for the use of personal data, and that establishes a legal basis for the Common Data Base.

Secondly, the single gateway access to government services will provide the user with a super-registration vault that will ensure that profiling and proactive electronic activity will only be carried out if the user gives his or her consent – unless of course such a requirement is specified in a particular legislation.

Government is about the fair and equitable provision and distribution of services. An e-government framework that is directed towards the intelligent, the young, the rich, the PC-savvy, the sighted, etc will create a new elite and will constitute a new, and complex, social issue. Accessibility and the minimising of the social divide and of the marginalisation of groups by placing them on the fringes of the ICT society is fundamental. There is, however, no one solution as the facets of the social divide are diverse, with each community probably requiring its own specific solution.

The approach we have adopted in Malta is that whilst we will strive to make the transition to e-government, the traditional ‘face-to-face’ medium as a delivery channel will not be replaced. Further to this we are using local government as ‘brokers’ providing a physical and human gateway to help users interact electronically with government. In this regard a partnership is being forged with local government units to assume this role and a large part of the 69 local councils in Malta have responded positively to this.

Steps are also underway to place free access Internet mediums to the e-government gateway across strategic points such as shopping malls, leisure centres, state schools, state libraries, etc to render Internet access free and possible. A Foundation for Information Technology Accommodation has been established between Government, the National Commission for People with Disabilities and the private sector in order to ensure that e-government solutions accommodate persons with disabilities.

There is much more that can be said of how we, in Malta, are seeking to make the e-government transition to render our governing institutions more effective, efficient, economic as well as more open, accessible and transparent. But I feel that this should serve as a good base for discussion.

We live in exciting times vis a vis the modernisation of our governing institutions – times which demand from us action, leadership and vision. To quote, Alice in Wonderland:

"It takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere, you, have to run much, much faster than that."

 



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Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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