ICDL GCC Foundation, the governing body and certification authority of the International Computer Driving License (ICDL) program in the Gulf region has urged for increased adoption of new information technology initiatives to boost access to government information and services which will lead to efficient governance in the Gulf region.
A recent United Nations report ranks the GCC region’s e-governance readiness level at an approximate 50 per cent, which is far below the 91 per cent scored by the index leader, United States. The study also highlights the challenges the region faces in the efficient and effective implementation of e-government systems.
Jamil Ezzo, Director General of ICDL GCC Foundation said: “The primary goals of any modern government are to ready the public for the use of its e-services and to provide each citizen with quality services in an efficient manner. Though many governments in the region are scoring improvements in that area, wider initiatives towards intensifying the ongoing drive to reduce the digital gap are still direly needed especially in the areas of digital skills and affordable access to technology.”
Ezzo urged the authorities, the IT industry and Internet Service Providers (ISP) to ensure e-inclusion of all members of society by lessening the burden to access technology and improving public means. “Governments can adopt new viable techniques to enhance access by publicizing its e-services and consider installing customer activated terminals called kiosks in public places nationwide offering free access to integrated one-stop government services. Further, governments can establish national training centres to provide citizens with basic computer skills and orientation to its e-services. Periodic surveys are also essential to engage the public in providing feedback to improve customer service, examine calls for new requisites and upgrade its portal user-friendliness,” Ezzo suggested.
“There are several areas found to be prohibitive Internet access in the region including the high cost and limited Arabic content. Industry figures reveal that the average cost of DSL fees in the Gulf in 2005 was 271 per cent higher than the actual cost of an entry-level DSL service in the advanced countries. The intervention of governments in this regard is urgently needed. A revision in the rates of Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) access is also required to increase Internet penetration. ISPs can offer bundled services to include a free computer with Internet connectivity,” Ezzo said.
“A strategic decision is also needed to help the public accept the government’s online services. Governments should remove any imposed extra fees on online transactions and avoid often unexplained charges which discourage citizens from using the online services offered by government portals. Instead, incentives such as loyalty program offering discounts, air miles and similar benefits are required to encourage the utilization of online public services which will likely have a positive effect on user confidence and the level of e-participation,” Ezzo concluded.
Last but not least further participation of women is crucial to ensuring the efficient implementation of e-government systems and ensuring e-inclusion in the Gulf region. “Until today there is still a large percentage of women who have not realized their potential and developed their skills to become part of the digital society. Women’s Societies and Unions play a major role in the community and can contribute significantly to the digital society by enticing women to become digitally literate and offering subsidized home PCs and Internet access,” Ezzo said.