GOOD NEWS ON E-GOVERNANCE
MANILA, February 2, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - With the political jitters brought about by the election season, the tumbling peso and falling Moody’s ratings, the government entered 2004 with at least one bright spot – e-government is on the rise.
The National Computer Center (NCC), the government’s lead agency for its computerization program, reported that as of end-2003, 99.5 percent of national government agencies (NGAs) are now online. Of the country’s 375 NGAs, only two still have to establish their presence on the web.
Although the original target for full government computerization was actually June 2002, the Philippine’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s 2003-2004 Global IT Report on e-readiness is encouraging.
In an interview with The STAR, Angelo Timoteo Diaz de Rivera, the newly appointed director general of the NCC, revealed that in the overall ranking of 69 countries, the Philippines ranked 20th in terms of the quality of government online.
According to the 2003 e-readiness rankings, produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the Philippines ranked 12th among the 16 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
"We have a long way to go but one thing is for sure – we need to work hard to catch up with our neighboring countries," Rivera said.
Using the United Nations and the American Society of Public Administration’s (UN-ASPA) criteria for the "Five Stages of e-Government" for measuring the country’s progress in e-government, the NCC reveals that there are now at least three government agencies that have reached Stage 4 of the checklist for electronic governance – the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the National Statistics Office (NSO).
These are the government agencies which now have fully integrated Web presence or the capability to conduct complete and secure transactions online.
The BIR pioneered an online payment service at www.bir.gov.ph through its Electronic Filing and Replacement System, an electronic processing and transmission of tax return information, including attachments and taxes. It also offers other electronic services such as the Electronic Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) Application, Electronic Broadcasting System and TIN Verification.
The SEC website, www.sec.gov.ph, introduced an online Company Registration System called the SEC-iRegister. This online facility accepts electronic payments and corporate name reservation and registration fees.
The NSO, for its part, uploaded its own PayPlus Online Payment Facility of the e-Census at www.census.gov.ph which allows online requests for civil registry documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates. Other services that are offered online include new application, verification of application status, downloadable forms and vital statistical tabulations.
Although most government agencies in the Philippines are far from reaching this advanced stage, the NCC said the future of e-governance in the country is very promising with 91 agencies in Stage 3, 157 in Stage 2 and 122 in Stage 1.
"The government intends to harness the full potential of information and communications technology (ICT) to ensure wider access to information and the faster and efficient delivery of government services to the public," De Rivera said.
The vision, he added, is for Filipino citizens anywhere in the world, as well as foreign investors, to have electronic access to government information and services.
The 5 Stages Of E-Governance
According to the criteria set by the UN-ASPA, a government website is considered in Stage 1 if it functions basically as a public information source. This is usually a static page which contains only contact and statistical information about the agency and often, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs).
A government site is considered in Stage 2 if aside from basic information, it also provides regular updates about the agency, including documents and resources that may easily be downloaded, and has search and e-mail functions.
Stage 3 or the so-called "interactive Web presence" is reached if the site already acts as a portal with links to other related sites. Users of websites in this stage can search specialized databases, and forms can be downloaded or submitted online.
In Stage 4, websites have the capability to allow users to directly access services based on specific needs and are ultimately secure, allowing for complete transactions online such as for payment and registration.
The goal, according to the NCC, is for government agencies to reach Stage 4 and to fully utilize the electronic media in facilitating government processes.
"The implementation of e-government should improve the quality of life of the people. They should be able to avail themselves of government services 24/7 from the comfort of their own homes and offices. With better information, the quality of decision-making and service delivery in government will also improve," De Rivera said.
E-government, he said, actually covers a wide range of applications such as making use of multimedia broadcasting, radio networks, computer networks, mobile phone communication technologies and other electronic devices.
"The use of ICT could help the government meet socio-economic development needs and help address such concerns as poverty, crime, education, health and environment," De Rivera added.
The NCC director general admitted though that Internet penetration in Filipino households is still very low. He said strides in getting government agencies, including local government units, to go online should be complemented by addressing issues about the public’s access to computers and the Internet.
However, this should not serve as a hindrance for the entire Philippine government to aspire to reach Stage 5 of the UN-ASPA checklist.
De Rivera said that in Stage 4, there must be "a country website where all services and links can be done through a single central portal and where all transactional services offered by the government are made available through a single integrated site."
At present, there is a government portal, www.gov.ph, although it is not yet fully integrated, De Rivera said.
The target this year, he said, is to complete the development of this premier government portal within the year.
One of the factors that could hinder this goal is the availability of funds. That’s why, De Rivera said, an ICT Fund was put up primarily to support government agencies in the development and implementation of ICT projects.
"Each agency has its own budget. But there is a P4-billion e-Government Fund which was specifically established to fund e-Government projects that are cross-agency in nature," he said. "The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) allocated a small percentage of the budgets of government agencies, which is now the e-Government Fund."
Of the P4 billion, he said P850 million has been earmarked for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) modernization project, P500 million for the Bureau of Customs modernization, P700 million for the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) computerization project, and P100 million for the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s ICT project. The rest of the fund will be distributed among qualified agencies.
Meanwhile, the two remaining government agencies that do not have any Web presence are finalizing their websites and hope to launch them soon.
Lorna Sales, director of the NCC’s Plans and Programs Monitoring Office, said that very soon, all government agencies will be online and the government’s portal will be fully established, serving as a single gateway for government transactions.
Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi
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