Linking technology to the interests of citizens
Convincing citizens of the efficiency of e-government is not easy. Is it just about having nice websites for governments to show off their achievements and good deeds while concealing reality? Does it make sense to publish long winded public budgets that only a few understand while forgetting to offer online options to facilitate processes, applications, and efficient access to services that citizens are offered daily? Or worse yet, how to ensure people in countries with a history of fraud that taints every election that if they push a button on their computer and use their finger to choose their preference from the options available on screen, they will have emitted a valid vote, that will neither get lost nor be changed?
These were some of the dilemmas addressed by the people that made up the panel on “e-Government and citizen participation” that was held on July 25th. This occurred within the framework of the Internet and Society Forum, which is a part of the WALC2006 programme. During this Forum, which has daily sessions following the track schedule, workshop professors and instructors, guests from different Ecuador-based organisations and national governmental civil servants that work in the Source: APC">ICTpublic policy arena, participated as panellists.
Sophia Espinoza, director of Agenda for Connectivity in Ecuador, was very sincere during her presentation. The prospects in Ecuador are bleak: public policy and holistic strategies are lacking, there is no culture of e-government, civil servants are afraid of losing power if they implement the use of technology that they are not thoroughly knowledgeable of and citizens complain because their needs are not considered. In order to overcome this situation, Espinoza decided to open up public discussion of the agenda for connectivity to the private sector and civil society, with the participation of civil servants from the relevant government areas involved. For this director, transparency, strengthening democracy, and multisectoral participation are the pillars on which changes in public administration will take place. Changes that will allow the establishing of truly citizen responsive e-government.
The implementation of e-voting was discussed by professors L Marcelo Escolar and Julian Dunayevich, from Argentina. Both experts on the subject shared the details of a pilot project that is being carried out in their country and that involves a detailed study of, not only technical issues, but also the psychology of voters who are accustomed to enormous and obsolete ballots -popularly known as sheet lists due to their length- that are deposited in enormous cardboard ballot boxes under the watchful eye of election officials? How to calm the fears of the distrustful? Security measures, controllers and testing effective voting, and content secrecy were some of the most pressing issues the experts had to address.
Are this advances created to benefit the already privileged: those who have daily access, their own PC, broadband and other cutting edge technology within their reach? Lilian Chamorro from Colnodo, in Colombia, shared Colnodo's “Internet for Accountability” experience. This project that initially included a handful of municipalities in the interior of the country will, in the near future, reach some 200 localities with precarious APC Internet Rights Charter">internet accessin the most remote regions of the country. Thanks to this project, the municipalities began to timidly use websites to provide information regarding public funds. Now these websites have become thriving windows into the activities of the population. Day by day there is greater participation as citizens provide input, and share opinions and concerns. This has become an interesting exchange between governors and governed in an effort to strengthen democracy, transparency and participative management.
WALC2006 (www.walc2006.ula.ve) is being held this year at the Universidad Tecnologica Equinoccial, in Quito, Ecuador. This University has modern facilities and well-equipped laboratories where 240 students from 27 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are participating in eight popular curriculum tracks on advanced information and communication technology issues. The Internet and Society Forum is organised by the Source: APC website">Association for Progressive Communications, through its ICT Policy Monitor for Latin America and the Caribbean, APC Women's Networking Support Programme and WILAC.