October 19, 2004 (STAR) By Eden Estopace - Though the Philippines ended 2003 with 99.5 percent of national government agencies already offering online services according to the National Computer Center (NCC), it seems that e-government has not yet really taken off in this country.

Results of a new study of global e-government showed that the Philippines has even slipped from No. 13 in 2003 to No. 62 in the global ranking on e-government performance of 198 nations as of August 2004.

If it is any consolation, the United States has also slipped from No. 2 a year ago to only No. 3 this year. Taiwan, which was No. 5 in last yearís rankings, emerged as this yearís best in e-government performance, followed by Singapore.

The study, conducted by Professor Darrell West of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, was the fourth annual survey on digital government performance. According to the website InsidePolitics.org, which released the survey results, the research "evaluated government websites on two dozen different criteria, including the availability of publications, databases, disability access, privacy, security and the number of online services."

A team of researchers rated countries on a 0 to 100 point scale using as assessment the number of services plus access to information and foreign language translations.

The Philippines, in particular, scored 41 in online services, 90 in publications, 66 in links to databases, 10 in privacy policy, 3 in security policy and 3 in W3C disability access. It garnered 0 in foreign language accessibility, 7 in ads, 0 in premium fees, 48 in usersí fees, and 13.2 in average number of "disability errors" for an overall score of 26.7, down almost 10 percentage points from its score of 35.5 in 2003.

Taiwan ranked highest with a score of 44.3, up from its last yearís record of 41.3, dislodging Singapore, 2003ís leading e-government, which garnered only a score of 43.8 this year compared to its previous yearís performance of 46.3.

These two countries were followed by the United States, Canada, Monaco, China, Australia, Togo, Germany and surprisingly, Iraq. Meanwhile, those at the bottom heap are countries like Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Tajikistan, Syria, Somaliland, Niger, Namibia and Kenya.

According to the report, this yearís study reviewed 1,935 government websites in 198 countries from June to August. Websites analyzed included those of executive , legislative, judicial and Cabinet offices and major agencies serving crucial functions of government such as health, human services, taxation, economic development and foreign affairs. Links To Databases Of the 1,935 sites, 62 percent have links to databases but only 14 percent show privacy policies and only eight percent present security policies. Watchfire Inc., an automated software company, said the government websites also lag in the area of disability access, with only 14 percent of sites providing some form of access and assistance to people with disabilities such as the vision- and hearing-impaired.

Electronic government or e-government, according to West, refers to "public sector use of the Internet and other digital devices to deliver services and information."

"Although personal computers have been around for several decades, recent advances in networking, video imaging and graphics interfacing have allowed governments to develop websites that contain a variety of online materials," he wrote in the reportís executive summary.

In looking at electronic government from 2001 to 2004, however, he said, "Progress is being made, albeit at an incremental pace."

"Governments are showing steady progress on several important dimensions, but not major leaps forward. On several key indicators, e-government performance is edging up. However, movement forward has not been more extensive in some areas because budget, bureaucratic and institutional forces have limited the extent to which the public sector has incorporated technology into their mission," he said.

Among the most significant findings of the new study include: a noted rise in the number of government websites offering services that are fully executable online, up from 16 percent to 21 percent this year, and improved access to publications and links to databases, up from 62 percent a year ago to 89 percent.

Surprisingly, the study found out that public sector websites do not yet incorporate audio or video clips although these are the norm in private e-commerce portals. Only 12 percent of government websites surveyed provide audio clips and 13 percent have video clips. Text Messaging Service However, in response probably to the international appeal of Short Messaging Service (SMS) via mobile phones, many government sites feature text messaging service. In his report, West said many of Norwayís government sites, for example, "contain explanations of how SMS works and instructions as to how citizens can contact a variety of national agencies by way of the text messaging service."

In addition, he said the websites of the Republic of Congo and Singapore also endorse the use of text messaging as a means of contacting government officials.

West noted that countries vary enormously in overall e-government performance. "In general, countries in North America score highest, followed by Asia, Western Europe, Pacific Ocean Islands, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, South America, Central America and Africa," he said.

Of the 198 nations surveyed, the country with the largest number of services is Singapore, with an average of 9.5 services across its various government agencies. It is followed by Bahrain (5.0), China (3.2), the Bahamas (3.0), the United States (2.9), Hong Kong (2.5), Australia (2.3) and New Zealand (2.1).

In order to improve electronic government, the report suggests that "governments undertake several steps to reach their full potential in terms of accessibility and effectiveness."

These steps include corrective measures on links that donít work, and links that take an incredibly long time to load or lead users to incorrect sites. Designers were also advised to keep the sites as current as possible by updating content regularly. The biggest impediments so far are lack of organization, cluttered portals, technical difficulties and language barriers.

Researchers found that "well-developed sites help users explore and learn about the country."

With eight to 10 million Filipinos overseas, websites can be the only link of at least 10 percent of our population to Philippine government services. It would help to know the best practices of the countries leading in the area of e-government.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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