The second in a series of UN Ambassadors’ Breakfast Meetings organized under the auspices of the UN ECOSOC Working Group on Informatics, in collaboration with the Association for Information Technologies (aitglobal.com), took place at the Mission of Germany to the United Nations, in New York, on 10 April 2001. The Breakfast’s Theme was Using Practical Information Technologies Applications in the Pursuit of E-Government. The breakfast brought together twelve ambassadors, representatives of the private sector, universities and the trade press.
Ambassador Percy M. Mangoaela, Chairman of the Working Group started the breakfast by explaining that the purpose of the breakfasts was to engage the UN diplomatic community, at as high a level as possible, in the crucial task of investigating the impact of ICT on various economic and social agendas of interest to the international community. Underlying the value of the series is the belief that the digital divide needs to be addressed by all member states of the United Nations and that it is proper for ambassadors to reflect on such belief so that they can keep pace with the ICT revolution sweeping the world. In that way they can better participate in the global debate on the subject.
The lead presenter was Mr. Jack Miller, Vice Chairman of KPMG, who emphasized that E-government is a new kind of communication whose basis was trust, that citizens must trust E-government or they won’t use it. The components of trust are security, privacy and access.
Security is the foundation for all E-government. It is ensuring that the information is conveyed where it is intended, as it is intended.
Privacy is the right of individuals, groups or institutions to control, edit, manage and delete information about themselves and decide when, how and to what extent that information is communicated to others. Expectations of privacy vary substantially from culture to culture.
Accessibility, the third cornerstone of trust in E-government is about enabling citizens to easily communicate with government and complete transactions. Any place people have to travel a great distance to handle their government business or wait in line is an opportunity to improve access by E-government.
Mr. Miller described Technology Access Community Centres in Egypt as an example of a successful access venture. The Centres represent a unique platform to provide community access to the Internet and through it to a panoply of information and knowledge.
Dr. Dina Consolini of Columbia University outlined the scope of Columbia’s MBA Programme, especially as it relates to E-government. She stated that E-government is the right means to faster, more convenient ways of governing a nation. World leaders can attain phenomenal goals if they harness this fast-moving trend in electronic commerce to replace cumbersome procedures.
Governments might learn from the nexus between industry and education to avoid spending too much or making untutored decisions on the final definition of E-government. Resources can often be shared between partner institutions to serve the goals of both entities, as for example, Columbia Business School’s partnership to provide course content for Unext.com, a technology firm which produces sophisticated online courseware for top schools like Columbia.
In the ensuing debate one ambassador expressed the concern that E-government applications might be more relevant to developed countries than to developing ones. Another ambassador wondered how E-government might be used to enhance democracy and transparency in governance. Yet another raised the issue of using E-government to enhance democratic governance. Reference was made in this regard to the use of ICT in Australia’s electoral process.
The UN ECOSOC Working Group on Informatics’ global mission is to sensitize Nations to the gravity of the Digital Divide, to help determine the impact of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) on the economic and social development of Developing Countries, and on Nations in transition from command to market-based economies, and to analyze and emphasize solutions to meet global challenges created by the rapid growth of ICT.
AIT, founded in 1986 with the State University of New York at Farmingdale, is a global association of information technologies professionals that organizes high-level Information, Communication, and Technology (ICT) Conferences for Forbes 500 IT professionals, and for UN Ambassadors, Ministers, and Diplomats.