Editor : Martin Simamora, S.IP |Martin Simamora Press

Sabtu, 12 September 2015

What is holding up Philippines' e-government?

If you lament the slow-moving traffic in the Philippines, you shouldn’t feel impatient with other things that may move even slower in this country when it has something to do with public administration and governance.

Next to the snail’s pace in the delivery of justice in this country, we nominate the formation of an overseer for information and communications technology (ICT) as the next worst.

Now over a decade in the making, the establishment of a government body that would be in charge of developing, planning, and promoting the government’s ICT agenda is still in limbo despite being tagged as a priority measure. How difficult can this task be?

On closer scrutiny, this is a case where the horses are running full speed ahead, except someone forgot to hitch them to the chariot. We have individual ICT programs for most government agencies that thinks it needs one.

The Department of Science and Technology has one, so does the Department of Education, the Department of Transport and Communications, and a few more government agencies that have direct or perceived mandates related to ICT. So how laughable can this be?

Each one has its own version of how e-government should be. There’s this concept of having all government offices connected, plus having free Internet in public places. Then there’s the proposal to have all public school children with access to e-learning. Confusing indeed.

Big security breach

Not only do they each have their own agendas that speak on different planes, there is no one to take care of the most important responsibility: the control of the security of information of the whole government, from the smallest local government unit to the Office of the President.

How often have government agencies been attacked by hackers, either attempting to modify the public website contents or access vital information data that are increasingly being stored in their own servers. Who runs to the rescue? It’s the contracted private ICT service provider.

There is no agreed standard template to govern and oversee the security of these government agencies and units. How scary can this be?
Huge cost

In this day and age, not only does this laxity in ICT security protocols for government agencies pose a big security risk, it has also become expensive. In addition, because of the relatively high cost of ICT provided by the private sector, many government units – which urgently need connectivity to do work – are deprived of this modern-day tool.

For example, nothing substantial has come out of several attempts to set up a medical service system to connect poor and remote barangays and sitios in the country that cannot afford to have their own dedicated doctor or health worker. There are apps that can work for them, but the problem is finding the budget to make this available to them on a sustainable basis.

There is no debating ICT for government will be a positive development because it will promote transparency and ensure accountability, as well as promote open data to improve good governance.

But if the platform to run it will cost an arm-and-a-leg as what private ICT service providers charge, not to mention the slow service that they make available presently to their customers, the government will sink more into hopelessness.
Elbowing for control

Within the government bureaucracy, the delay in the establishment of a dedicated ICT department is partly due to an elbowing for control. A Commission on Information and Communications Technology, which was created by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004, was abolished by her successor in 2011.

The reasons are not very clear as to why this happened, but for sure, it has set back the government’s attempts to create a dedicated government body that will promote, develop, and regulate integrated and strategic ICT systems and reliable and cost-efficient communication facilities and services for the bureaucracy.

In 2013, the DOST – through its Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO) – unveiled the E-Government Master Plan (EGMP) for 2013-2016.

While the master plan is comprehensive enough in calling for the creation of a transparent, collaborative, and integrated Philippine government and acknowledging the importance of ICT in facilitating an open and transparent government, the DOST had wanted to keep this role to itself.

Finally, after strongly objecting to the formation of an independent Department of Information and Communications Technology, the DOST last year agreed to support Congress’ moves to give the task of managing the e-government master plan to a distinct and separate government entity.
No champion

The EGMP isn’t at all bad. It contains items about putting up integrated services for health, higher education, and justice/peace and order. The plan also details the continuous development of national ICT services through an integrated Government Philippines (iGovPhil) project. It simply needs a real champion. How complicated can this be to understand.

President Aquino needs to give a clearer indication as to his views to his seeming reluctance in supporting the bills the House and Senate have approved so it can finally be signed into law. He did not sign the proposed law prepared by the previous Congress, and it just wasted all that good effort. We hope the current Congress’ efforts are not put to waste.

If there is any other additional impetus to having the proposed establishment of a DICT signed into law, it is the fact the Philippines needs it badly to conform to the upcoming Asean economic integration commitments.

This will address the need for the Philippines to be at par with other Asean economies which have cabinet level departments for their ICT sector, especially in the light the country is the leading business process outsourcing (BPO) services provider for the world.

The ultimate objective, much like what most countries in the world aspire for, is to have the best digital services available for its population. It’s a big dream, but one worth aspiring for, if the platform to make it work is in place.

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