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Civic groups and parliaments in eGov planning. An analysis of eGov projects in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania

Marina Sokolova


During the past few years eGov related programs have been developed in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. Governments in the three countries are reconfiguring their activities in order to make use of the opportunities provided by the internet and ICTs. At the same time, civil society organizations have tended to devote their attention and resources to questions of connectivity, access and community development rather than to the matter of participation in eGov programming. As a result, they lack information about the development of eGov strategies and about who exactly is and could be involved at the planning stages. As long as civil society actors do not participate actively in eGov programming, it does not effectively serve its purpose - to improve communication among government, citizens, and parliament.

During the past few years eGov related programs have been developed in Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania. Governments in the three countries are reconfiguring their activities in order to make use of the opportunities provided by the internet and information and communication technologies (ICTs). But in none of these countries has e-governance, or at least e-government, become a priority, and there is no certainty how e-governance issues could be prioritized within a wider public.

eGov projects in these countries are generally market-driven rather than strategic choices. In Ukraine and Belarus, they are stimulated to a large extent by the strong demand from businesses and from governments' desire to standardize its operations, and to implement more effective managerial controls. Ukrainian civil society organizations (CSOs) occasionally raise issues of accountable and transparent e-governance, but they lack sustained strategies. Governments in all three countries consider an online presence important for their international image. But Lithuania, being an EU member, is far more driven by the international context as well as EU practice. Experts from all three countries emphasize that government officials cannot implement their information society and knowledge society rhetoric, and regard the digital divide and economic and managerial cost effectiveness as major reasons for introducing eGov practices.

In all three countries there is no standard official definition of e-government. In legislative acts, e-government is broadly described as computerization and automation (replaces current human-executed processes), informatization (provides information supports to current human-executed processes or/and e-services). That complicates any assessment of e-government progress and hinders the shift to an "e-governance paradigm". Even more, that leads to misunderstanding of eGov (and the host of notions associated with it) as a merely governmental (public administration) issue.

Thus, in Lithuanian documents one cannot find common definition of e-government. Some definitions focus on technology, others emphasize service or competence of public administration. Usually the definitions point out that e-government is a provider of public services in distant way . E-government is understood as a tool for implementation of a public administration reform and state functions . The concept of e-government, formulated by the Ministry of Interior, is coordinated with eEurope + action plan (europa.eu.int/information_society/ eeurope/2005/all_about/action_plan/index_en.htm), which says only about government online: electronic access to public services with related benchmarks - percentage of basic public services available online, public use of government on-line services and percentage of public procurement which can be carried out on-line.

The eBelarus programme defines "electronic government" as automated information - analytical systems to support decision making process concerning governing economic development of the country, which will foster improvement and efficiency of central government and of local administrations on the basis of information and communication technologies . But this definition is not satisfactory even for governmental actors. There is an understanding that e-government is much broader concept and includes: internal administration efficiency through a developed corporate network with the focus on coordination of subdivisions activities; information-analytical system (data-base) for long term strategies development; creation of a unified data bases for public use; services for specific target groups.

According to Ukrainian eGov projects "electronic government" is a system, through which informational-legal relationships among executive power bodies and between the latter and citizens and juridical persons are realized by way of use of Internet-technologies" . At the same time website of the State Committee on Communications and Informatization (http://www.stc.gov.ua/ukrainian/info/el_ukraine) suggests the term "e-state" ("eлектронна держава"), which means: wide usage of modern ways of communications, Internet in particular, at all levels of state governing - from central government to local administrations; introducing of electronic workflow in government agencies; integration of local agencies' networks into a unified government network; internet access for civil servants; provision of interactive participation of citizens in "state processes", in particular in elections. The term "e-governance," though occasionally used in official discourse, serves as a synonym of e-government.

Though governments in the three countries are pursuing e-government transformation in one way or another, policymakers in each country have adopted different eGov approaches defined by dominating visions of governance. For the Lithuanian government, e-services are priority . The Belarusian concept of e-government is based on strengthening the managerial capacities of national and local governments . Governmental resolutions in Ukraine emphasize information provision and transparency as key elements of electronic government .

There is a general understanding in all the three countries that eGov programmes can be implemented on the basis of multistakeholder cooperation. Governments seek financial assistance and technical expertise from ICT businesses. International bodies (World Bank, United Nations Developent Programme, Central and Eastern European Networking Association and others) as well as national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) provide assistance in the form of benchmarking and training. Each country has established multistakeholder partnerships . Belarus has three partnerships contributing to the Information Society development: Internet Forum (http://www.by2000.net/) and Belarus Development Gateway Partnership (belarus.belarusgateway.org/en/belarus/websites/domains.php?categoryID=1644). The Internet Forum is a community of specialists created in 1999 by the initiative of civil society and the Internet community. About 500 representatives from different communities participate therein. The community does not have a form of corporation. The Belarus Development Gateway Partnership was created in 2004 under the initiative of NGO "Information Society". At present the partnership is obtaining the legal entity status. The partnership conducts conferences and seminars, including specialized seminars "Mass Media in Information Society", participates in organization of annual Belarusian Congress on Telecommunications, Information and Banking Technologies, Belarusian Internet Forum, International Conference "e-Trade in CIS countries". The Belarusian Association of IT Developers (http://www.infopark.org/main.aspx?uid=79080) advocates IT sector issues and concerns on local and global levels. It establishes cooperation with state structures, experts and wider public. There is a strong feeling in the country that "it is necessary to stimulate the co-operation of government, representative bodies, civil society organizations and international structures in order to provide conditions requisite for the development of a common infrastructure" .

In Ukraine, the Ukraine Development Gateway Project team established NGO "Ukraine e-Development Association" in 2001 (http://www.e-ukraine.org/e-ukraine/about/). Its members are the leading companies in the ICT sphere, multinational corporations and NGOs. One of the key projects conducted by the association is "Creating Regional Information Gateways and Information Centers on the Basis of Public Libraries in Ukraine" (http://www.e-ukraine.org/e-ukraine/mainindex/). In 2002, the Information Society of Ukraine Foundation (http://www.isu.org.ua/), Institute of the Information Society (http://e-ukraine.org.ua/eng/institute.htm), International Renaissance Foundation (www.irf.kiev.ua/) and Internews (http://www.internews.org/regions/ukraine.htm) initiated creation of forum of non-governmental organizations in the sphere of ICT and telecommunications. The organizations use discussion forums and working meetings for experience sharing. In 2003, Information Society of Ukraine Foundation initiated summoning public working group "e-Ukraine" with participation of civil society and research and education community. Many of these multistakeholder partnerships were but temporary coalitions, working groups or task forces.

In Lithuania, major multistakeholder partnerships are Knowledge Economy Forum (http://www.zef.lt) and association Infobalt (www.infobalt.lt/english/). Knowledge Economy Forum, established in 2001, includes managers of Lithuanian companies working successfully in the areas of information technology, laser technology and biotechnology, scientists and politicians. Infobalt, established in 1994, includes information technology, telecommunications and office equipment companies, educational institutions and public organizations. Other multistakeholder partnerships are established mainly on separate dimensions of IS development and are not large enough.

Governments in the three countries are pursuing e-government transformation in one way or another. Each country has worked out a general conceptual framework for eGov projects. E-services and provision of information are the central concerns of eGov programming. In all countries under discussion governments are major stakeholders in eGov programming as it is connected, in one way or another, with administrative reforms; governments take the role of leaders and set agendas in eGov programming. The private sector, especially national IT application developers, and national academic institutions are normally seen by the government as essential partners. NGOs regard their participation in eGov project as the means to enhance human capacities and to empower local communities. As a result, only senior government officials, national private ICT businesses, academic institutions lobbying groups, and, to some extent, international bodies assume roles in eGov programming.

The lower and middle bureaucracy, organized groups of citizens, and local communities, not to mention individual citizens, remain passive and unresponsive to the eGov efforts of their governments. The same passivity characterizes the representative bodies of the three countries.

Citizens and organized citizens' groups and, generally, parliaments are not agenda setters. The private sector is viewed by governments as a source of information and finance, as well as an ICT products supplier. Citizen groups are not recognized as valuable contributors to eGov agendas. Even in Ukraine, where civil society actively tries to win a place in eGov agenda setting, the government remains the main player. The role of parliaments highly depends on the individual will and capacities of MPs, as in Lithuania, where only members of the Seimas Information Society Committee in 2000-2004 were active advocates of eGov initiatives. Citizens occasionally are invited to discuss some eGov issues, but the absence of an established institutional framework for deliberative participation makes such initiatives futile.

Therefore, civil society actors should actively pursue a role in constituting the ways in which the new technology are conceived and put to use. Through participation CSOs will determine a citizen-oriented e-government; contribute to a transition from the public as "customer" to the public as "citizen". Civic engagement benefits governments because it provides a basis for a sustainable e-governance strategy; increases the efficiency of policy; enhances overall implementation capacity; and catalyzes greater coordination via developing new partnerships and networks. The overarching goal in this context is to effect a transition to collaborative or networking e-governance in order to promote democratic values and principles of civic engagement in all the three countries. In this light public servants need to learn to consult the public; elected officials should facilitate engagement, overview experimentation in new ways to obtain public input into eGov planning, and both renew and ensure accountability. These trends are vital for effective democracy, for building social capital and knowledge society, as well as for building trust in state machinery and social cohesion enhancing. Seeking to find an interactive role for the citizen in an effective and meaningful way is one of the major challenges now facing both governments and CSOs.


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On the Approval of the Conception of the National Information Society Developent of Lithuania. Resolution of the Governmnet of the Republic of Lithuania. No. 229, 28 February. 2001.Vilnius. http://www3.lrs.lt/owa-bin/owarepl/inter/owa/U0091079.doc (25.09.2005)

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Cyberspace 2005 / Kyberprostor 2005, November 7-8, 2005 Brno

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