NZ can learn from Singapore e-govt

Despite the differences in Singapore and New Zealand's styles of government, there are things this country can learn from Singapore's e-government experiences, says Li-Wee Chew, a principal consultant with Singapore Computer Systems Ltd.

Chew was speaking at last week's local-government-focused Web and Mobility Symposium, in Wellington, organized by Computerland and the Association of Local Government Information Managers (ALGIM).

Her company has assisted many of the Singapore government's ICT plans. She acknowledges that the very different culture and style of government in Singapore and New Zealand limits the extent to which the practice of e-government in her homeland can be of benefit to the practice of the discipline in New Zealand.

But many of the aims and strategies of e-government are similar in most parts of the world, she says. "I hope there is still material that you can pick up and adapt." One of the chief differences is Singapore's use of a numbered identity card for each individual, something that most of New Zealand's population has resisted. "It does make things easier", says Chew.

Singapore is strong on the perspective of "many agencies, one government", expressed through a portal giving the "e-citizen" ready centralized access to services, and on the need for standards to be decided in advance on everything from the way central government agencies computerize to the broadband networks it has extended to schools and libraries.

New Zealand has favored competitive bids for the Probe network, set a standard for such infrastructural elements as metadata and secure e-mail and fell into an ill-fated attempt to enforce software compliance with the GoProcure e-procurement system.

The stages of Singapore's development reflect an international best practice also visible in New Zealand's e-government strategy, from a static Web presence to frequently updated information and interaction via e-mail, then to transactional services for the citizen and finally to "seamless cross-agency integration".

There has also been a move from "agency-centric" to "citizen-centric" services, a need which New Zealand's new e-government head, Laurence Millar, emphasizes.

Chew says Singapore has had a plan for the role of ICT in the life of the country since the original National Computerization Plan in 1980. The latest, fourth version of the strategy is labelled Infocomm 21 and is intended to cover the period from 2000 to 2010.

The plan is coordinated by a committee chaired by the head of the civil service and including the permanent secretaries of all ministries. There is a separate committee to monitor and advise on global ICT trends and their potential benefit to Singaporean e-government.

An online consultative mechanism is evolving, says Chew; under the slogan "your opinion counts", the e-government apparatus provides a facility for public debate of issues. Online polling is earmarked for the future.

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