By Benjamin Flowers
To address rising demands for efficiency in the public sector, the Central Information Technology Office, which is the Government’s technology arm, is taking steps to upgrade current manual government processes to Electronic Government (e-government) processes.
E-Government strategies, as defined by the United Nations Public Administration Network, is the employment of the internet for delivering government information and services.
Governments use Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and other web-based telecommunication technologies to improve the performance and efficiency of service delivery in the public sector.
By utilizing technology governments eliminate lengthy, time consuming procedures involved with accessing services within the various ministries and departments.
It is equated with online services offered by the private sector such as the ability to pay bills to utility companies or access to account information from commercial banks.
E-government improves efficiency and service quality; helps achieve policy outcomes and economic objectives and can be a major contributor to reform. E-government also builds trust between citizens and government. It will also increase accountability and facilitate engagement.
Replacing paper based services such as applications for permits or licenses with online services reduces costs to GOB in terms of paper, ink and other materials associated with these processes.
Digitization will also improve processing time for the services, allowing government to deliver on requests faster. It will also eliminate multiple collection of the same data, and reconcile all multiples of existing data.
Government can help achieve better outcomes in major policy areas such as taxation, with improved collection of taxes through increased sharing of information by agencies; by reducing the demand for health services through better use of health information and scarce health resources; by promoting the use of native languages and awareness of indigenous people.
Proper implementation of e-Governance practices would allow for Belizeans to access public services from their own homes or businesses, sparing them the effort of physically visiting government offices.
For example, with a properly functioning e-government system residents in Punta Gorda would not need to travel to the Vital Statistics Unit in Belize City to apply for a birth certificate.
It also greatly simplifies the process of information accumulation for citizens and businesses.It empowers people to gather information regarding any department of government and get involved in the process of decision making.
E-Governance strengthens the very fabric of democracy by ensuring greater citizen participation at all levels of governance. E-Governance leads to automation of services, ensuring that information regarding public welfare is easily available to all citizens, eliminating corruption.
This revolutionizes the way governments function, ensuring much more transparency in the functioning, thereby eliminating corruption.
Since the information regarding every activity of government is easily available, it would make every government department responsible as they know that every action of theirs is closely monitored.
Access and equity of broadband services continues to be a problem in Belize. Many places in Belize still do not have access to utilities such as light and potable water, let alone internet access.
Cost is another major barrier for Belizeans. A recant report by ICT Pulse, an online entity that tracks broadband usage in the Caribbean, notes that Belizeans spend the most money within the region on cell phone and internet service.
Around the world
The United Nations Public Administration Network conducts a bi-annual e-Government survey. The survey contains a section entitled “e-Government Readiness”, which compares the 191 member countries’ e-government standings.
Countries are ranked by monitoring two primary indicators: the state of e-government readiness; and the extent of e-participation among their citizens.
The survey also assesses telecommunication infrastructure and human resource endowment.
Belize has not gone above a ranking of 98 for the past four years. In 2008 Belize ranked 97, since then the country has toggled between 120 and 124. The 2014 report puts the country’s ranking at 120.
Been up to
In January GOB procured the services of a consultancy agency working along with the CITO for the development of a policy, strategy and plan of action. In terms of specific ongoing projects CITO is currently overseeing the Trade Facilitation Project – Belize Electronic Licences and Permits System (BELAPS).
This service will facilitate online interaction between the businesses and Government agencies responsible for trade.
This facility will allow companies and individuals to apply for various import and export permits and licenses, register businesses, and conduct other trade related activities via a single online application where submissions are automatically routed to the relevant Government Agencies.
A phased approach has been adopted for this project, progressively making online services available to the business community. The entities include, SCU, BAHA, Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, and Customs.
Working along with the staff of the CITO a software development company out of Taiwan is working on this project in phases.
Fisheries and Forestry Modules are presently being developed and will be completed in December 2014.
Thereafter, the Agriculture and BAHA modules will be completed The BELAPS system will be fully integrated with the existing ASYCUDA World system use by the Customs Department.
It should be noted that during the analysis stage stakeholder meetings were held with both public and private sectors and a prototype was presented for feedback.
This project is slated to be completed in 2016.