Electronic Government vs. Open Government

By Gabriela Mejías Gispert

In conformity with the constitutional referendum and with the guidelines set by the 6th Congress of the PCC, Cuba has started on the path towards a public administration with greater decentralization. A summarized approach to this concept would be: the application of the State’s resources with the purpose of promoting development and the welfare of the population. By means of this structure, methods for the improvement of the public sphere are constructed, thus permitting the elimination of regulations which obstruct economic and social life, optimizing results, and replacing bureaucratic rules which make daily life difficult. The implementation of a public administration strategy enables the generation of more efficient and democratic models, leaving less room for corruption.

Public administration in Cuba is a complex issue, as nothing refers to it within the political science of Socialism. The lack of similarly-structured prototypes invites inquiry into what the appropriate foundations could be in our model under construction.

Attaining a public administration created upon such foundations poses an improvement challenge, which includes a cultural transformation and the intense training of our leaders.

In this framework, the President of the Council of State and of the Council of Ministers has spoken since the beginning about its management, about the need to implement Electronic Government (e-Government). It is evident that this has already been set in motion. We have quickly gotten used to seeing officials getting involved in social media, and it’s a luxury to be able to access the official webpage of the National Assembly. However, e-Government is much more than that.

This type of administration implies the use of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in internal government processes and in products that the State makes available for citizens. E-Government is a paradigm shift in the way governments and states interact, getting closer to civil society through technology and the possibilities it offers.

This process comprises four main phases: presence, interaction, transaction and transformation. The first two phases constitute a technology leap, in the former of which the government makes regulations, documents and basic information about laws available online. The interaction phase will enable initial activity with respect to the information offered. Companies, the civil society and the government create communication channels through forms, comment sections, forums, etc.

The next phases constitute a cultural leap; organizations allow the population to complete and consult on procedures, pay taxes and access information that, before the implementation of ICT, could only be obtained by directly contacting the source. A smooth functioning of the previous dynamics would bring about transformation as a fourth stage. In this phase, a change arises in the relationship between the government and society, creating integration between the government-run sector, self-employed workers, NGOs and civil society, and enabling more specialized services.

Some authors refer to a fifth phase, which they call democratic participation. From the government, contributions for decision-making are encouraged; a formal willingness to involve society in a two-way dialog network.

To what extent can the relationship between government and civil society be modified with the incorporation of total and effective e-Government in Cuba?

This type of government would allow us to devise strategies and make available information which is generally hard to obtain. It would bring about greater transparency in the administration of the various institutions, more effectiveness of processes, more agility, and therefore less bureaucracy to obstruct daily procedures. It would be so nice to go to the registry office and not having to go back several other times to find out whether they found the requested information in their archive folders! But unquestionably, the greatest benefit would be better social interaction with the government, with no addressed letters which might get lost in bureaucratic mazes.

Cuba is one of the signatory countries of the Ibero-American Charter of Electronic Government (CLAD 2007). We’re still wet behind the ears, as many institutions fail to have the required presence, but completing concrete actions is the fundamental step in attaining any goal. E-Government is an objective within that process, a tool that would enable what civil society really demands: an open, democratic and socialist government.

An Open Government model must be sustained by three fundamental pillars: transparency, collaboration and participation. The importance of implementing e-Government on the path to an Open Government lies in adding value to decision-making with a more effective use of technology. The usefulness of ICT reached during e-Government will enable the setting of new objectives in accordance with the public, with time and with the means at hand, this being a main goal for the constitution of Open Government. This, in turn, would allow greater transparency, accountability of both the projects of the various institutions and of the budget set aside for public administration, as well as the implementation of greater collaboration with citizens. Attaining the goal implies a re-conditioning of government, a responsibility for officials in all sectors, and the construction of civic awareness, which is a willingness to make demands and to get involved in the transformation of the form of public administration we have gotten used to.

(Translated from the original)

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