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Estonia can teach us a thing or two about e-government

March 22, 2013

Jan-PavelSASKATOON, SK, Mar. 22, 2013/ Troy Media/ – The strength of the Saskatchewan economy is exhilarating. The province provides a plentiful supply of minerals and agricultural products that are needed worldwide and fuel the economy. In the face of a reoccurring recession in Europe and the slow recovery in the U.S., some argue that the province should take advantage of its situation and implement innovative measures to maintain long-term prosperity. One such measure is a world-class e-government.

E-government uses the Internet to deliver services for citizens more conveniently and efficiently. We choose to use e-services because they take only minutes to complete and save us a trip to a government office. Among the ‘popular’ ones is online payment for parking tickets.

Saskatchewanians can also apply online for business registration, PST filing, health card, some operational permits, renew a driver’s license, file a car insurance claim, and book a camp site. Although it seems like a good start, we are in fact falling behind. According to the 2012 survey by the Stratford Institute for Digital Media, Saskatchewan placed 10th within Canada for the quality of e-government, outperforming only Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In comparison to countries that are leaders in e-government, the gap is even more apparent.

The main drawbacks of Saskatchewan’s e-government are the small number of e-services and the minimal integration of the collected information. E-services are often dispersed across many websites, each with its own login requirements. It can be challenging to remember usernames and passwords for your work and personal emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, amazon.com, and on top of that one for each of the government e-services.

What is more, why do we have to provide the government the same information over and over? The digital age must have a solution to this. Fortunately, we do not need to re-invent the wheel. Saskatchewan can learn from other countries such as Estonia – a pioneer and leader of so called One-Stop-Shop Model of e-government.

A country of only 1.3 million inhabitants, Estonia has more in common with Saskatchewan than similar population size. It operates long term with budgetary surpluses. It is practically debt-free (6 per cent of GDP) and maintains strong economic growth within recession-stricken Europe (3.2 per cent forecast for 2012). Estonia is a popular media example of a successful e-government. The success of its technological solutions has spilled over to create many well-known private companies. Sometimes dubbed ‘E-stonia’ or ‘Start-up Nation’, it is the birthplace of Skype, PayPal and Kazza.

Estonia’s e-government rests on three equally important pillars. First is a network that connects more than a hundred municipal and national databases. Its main benefit is that users do not have to repeatedly provide the same information. Information is re-purposed to complete future requests. Second, a country-wide electronic ID enables easy access to all e-services. Finally, Estonia’s e-government enables citizens and businesses to access hundreds of e-services from one website, bringing a new level of convenience to all users.

Estonia’s One-Stop-Shop e-government saves everyone’s time and reduces costs. An equally important benefit is that it allowed for new services such as online elections (first used in the world by Estonia in 2005) to appear. Citizens obtained new pathways to influence the political process via dedicated e-solutions. The country holds world records in the speed with which one can establish a business or file taxes. It created solutions to connect hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, and emergency personnel to improve health care. Teachers, students, and parents take advantage of electronic school features. As a result of these and hundreds of other e-services, public participation in the system is among the highest in the world.

Some other benefits of e-government are improved accountability, transparency, predictability and participation. As indicators of good governance, they play a decisive role in investment promotion. Modern e-government will bring technological expertise to Saskatchewan, which can help start new industries. Success will increase media exposure and will help market Saskatchewan worldwide. Finally, e-government provides just the tool to keep the government lean as the population grows, while reaching all corners of our sparsely populated province.

Saskatchewan can tailor e-government to its needs and make it a one-stop destination that everybody knows about, talks about, and mainly that everybody uses. Applications that are functional, user-friendly and available on our phones can make government interactions brief and enjoyable, a trend that is already experienced by many in other countries. Estonia provides the proof that it is not the size of the country but the size of the ideas that matters.

Jan Pavel is a research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (http://www.fcpp.org)

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