e-Governance in the Post-Pandemic Era: How Technology is Changing the Landscape
The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG) is an independent, international think tank with focus on economic development & trade, technology & innovation, sustainable development and climate change, energy & environment, international relations & strategic affairs, migration & settlement.
Keywords: e-Governance, Technology, Post-pandemic, Economic Development
Participating Institution I:
As a nationally recognised not-for-profit organisation, the Australian Information Security Association (AISA) champions the development of a robust information security sector by building the capacity of professionals in Australia and advancing the cyber security and safety of the Australian public as well as businesses andgovernments in Australia.
Participating Institution II:
The African Development Bank (AfDB) Group’s mission is to help reduce poverty, improve living conditions for Africans and mobilize resources for the continent’s economic and social development. With this objective in mind, the institution aims at assisting African countries – individually and collectively – in their efforts to achieve sustainable economic development and social progress. Combating poverty is at the heart of the continent’s efforts to attain sustainable economic growth.
The Background of the Policy Brief
Responsive e-governance combines information and communication technologies and modern management practices within a single identity framework that enhances citizen, public and private sector engagement; transparency and accountability; and business and market efficiency – all leading to improved public service delivery and GDP growth.The Asian Development Bank (ADB) argues that technology can greatly improve government effectiveness at increased speeds of adoption, maturity and integration with public services.Countries already have started such services. India’s digital ID program Aadhaar registered 99 percent of its 1.2 billion population;Indonesia’s e-KTP card,Malaysia’s MyKad, Bangladesh’s Smart NID card system, and Pakistan’s NADRA system126 have followed similar suit. Asian megacities are also improving public transportation systems using technology: The Jakarta Transport Authority, for instance, engaged with multiple application providers such as Trafi, Waze, and Google Maps to assess alternate traffic routes that cuts down commuting times and increase ridership.127 Kenya’s M-Pesa system, launched in 2007 as the world’s first mobile money service, has contributed to an uptake of e-government services, enhancing financial inclusion for 86 percent of Kenyans. Similarly, the diffusion of mobile networks and inexpensive mobile phones has enhanced the use of digital identification systems for accessing government and IAAS (identity as a service) services used for KYC or anti-money laundering activities.
Due to the benefits of e-governance and digitally available public services, the European Commission has made efforts to boost cross-border digital public services through interoperable platforms such as the Common Framework for Citizens’ Electronic Identity Management
» Technology can greatly improve government effectiveness at increased speeds of adoption, maturity, and integration with public services «
Private sector industries are now also realizing the potential of leveraging integration opportunities with government systems for customer identification and service improvements, providing consumers with greater flexibility to move their data between private sector competitors.
TECH. AND FINANCIAL INCLUSION: BRIDGING THE GAP
Gartner in 2018 predicted that by 2030, 80% of heritage financial firms would shut down due to growing digitalization.The pandemic has since accelerated the adoption of online banking and digital payment systems, revolutionizing business models reducing consumers’ dependency on cash.Fintech is democratizing access to finance and achieving financial inclusion as an enabler and accelerator of economic growth. According to the World Bank, 1.2 billion “unbanked” adults gained access to financial services since 2010, increasing the number of individuals with bank accounts by 35 percent.
Moreover, according to the World Bank’s Findex Report, only 19 percent of financial account holders in Southeast Asia accessed their accounts using a smartphone or internet in 2017 while 35 percent of people in the 15-24 age bracket were reported to use the internet to make purchases.This figure increased to 42 percent in 2020138. India’s fintech adoption rate – currently at 87 percent139 – has been augmented by the growth in digital payments whose transaction value touched USD 103 billion in October 2021 alone.
In Bangladesh, fintech startup bKash has revolutionized the economy and 90% of bKash users have not interacted with the banking sector before.Out of 140 members of the OECD and G20.Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) in October 2021 agreed to a minimum 15 percent tax rate from 2023 for multinational enterprises providing e-commerce business solutions as a system that ensures fairer profit distribution.
In addition to financial inclusion, e-governance and digital systems also require reliable and affordable access to digital networks and services for businesses and individuals alike. Uninhibited service needs sound telecommunications policies that “reflect the need for a wide diffusion of digital networks, targeted measures for disadvantaged people, and firms.” In addition, government policies need to ensure adequate oversight in consider- ation of unregulated cryptocurrencies to address money laundering and taxation challenges,144 necessitating proactive policymaking that rapidly facilitates a shift from analog systems to digital.
TECH AND ACCESSSIBILITY: A DOUBBLE EDGED SWORD?
Despite the post-pandemic internet penetration rates exceeding 60 percent in Southeast Asia, large swathes of the world’s population continue to lack a stable and affordable access to the internet with Africa recording just over 40 percent145 and South Asia recording 30 percent. A lack of affordable internet would have an inadvertent disruptive effect onwidening an already existing digital divide.According to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (AfAI), a 1GB data plan is simply unaffordable for almost a billion people spread across 57 countries.
Developed economies, meanwhile, witnessed spectacular technological advancements.The UK, for example, adopted digital assistance initiatives148 while the government of Singapore developed the Silver Infocomm Initiative (SII) to redress connectivity among people over age 50 by building their skills and education levels.Even some developing economies and LDCs are now pushing similar measures to facilitate digital literacy programs and social inclusion. In Kenya for example, a campaign by Safaricom in partnership with Google drove the adoption of mobile internet among women by introducing inexpensive 4G handsets along with customer support, simplified activation and relevant content. In Zanzibar, the World Mobile Group experimented with blockchain as a method of delivering fast and cheap internet access to underserved populations across five pilot sites that would serve roughly 3,000 people.
However, technological advancements are not fast enough due to affordability issues and a lack of ICT infrastructure.During the pandemic, reliability and speed of internet-based connectivity are also, crucial factors driving inequity between urban and rural areas 90 percent of students across Sub-Saharan Africa do not have home computers and 82 percent are unable to access online learning programs, creating an educational crisis and leading to dropouts resulting in losses of about USD 10 trillion in potential earnings and an increase in learning poverty rates to 63 percent.
BUILDING BRIDGES: TECH AS A DRIVER FOR SOCIAL INCLUSION
Currently, there are approximately 327 million fewer women than men who own a smartphone and are able to access internet-based services. In developing countries, women are 22.8 percent less likely than men to use the internet. In Africa, 24 percent of women versus 35 percent of males currently use the internet.
» e-Governance and digital systems require reliable, equitable, and affordable access to digital «
According to AfAI, over 40 percent of countries lacked “meaningful policies or programs to expand women’s access to the internet”156. Unequal access to internet has cost low-income countries roughly USD 1 trillion since 2010 and could cause an additional USD 500 billion in losses by 2025 if governments fail to take appropriate action.
»Technologies have increased exposure to newer risks like government censorship and hate speech in digital spaces«
With a high barrier to entry for women in technology, they are already underrepresented in technical and executive positions of major technology transnational corporations. To illustrate, the number of women in Australia participating in the cybersecurity sector is only 17 percent. Research proves that companies with diverse leadership teams including women are up to 15 percent more likely to be profitable.159 Women-led businesses generated USD 820.6 million in global revenue with an additional USD 592 million in VC investment in 2019.
ICT infrastructural development is essential to economic development of developing and lesser-developed economies. In Kenya, the food crisis diverted with increased market participation due to
on-farm cameras and in-house monitors,reaping huge benefits for the economy.Even a 10 percentage-point increase in broadband penetration could increase GDP growth by 1.38% for developing economies. The pandemic’s push towards digital transformation has increased the need for ICT development.Georgia improved internet connectivity to 1,000 villages in response to the pandemic .VIRTUAL HEALTHCARE : THE FUTURE? Thailand set up a Ministry for Digital Economy and Society in September 2016 with a National Digital Economy Masterplan spread out over 20 years,before the pandemic even hit. Gabon, one of Africa’s few upper-income countries, aimed to transform its public health services in 2016 by placing them online through the eGabon project,166 rolling out a National Health Information System.167 But COVID-19 certainly increased digital initiatives in health. Africa addressed its critical shortage of healthcare workers168 with a strong, innovative approach using ICT and 4IR.169 Health startups from South Africa are also attracting investments. In April 2020, for example, a pan-Africa hackathon launched by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to elicit responses to the pandemic’s challenges saw over 25,000 entrepreneurs respond to the call, 16,000 participate, and 750 solutions proposed of which 20 received funding.
Imposing restrictions, regulating public movement, and adopting preventive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 spurred governments into combining healthcare with innovative and advanced technologies.In Australia, state-based manual mandatory QR code check-in applications were implemented to enable faster and more accurate contact tracing of citizens as they moved about in different retail stores or venues, far more effective than the federal government’s automated Bluetooth-enabled solution. Even the use of telehealth consultations increased worldwide.Technologies, however, need to be affordable, easy to use, intuitive, reliable,and secure. Policy and regulatory uncertainty around healthcare, unfortunately, slows down adoption rates for technologies introduced in markets while finding itself at odds with their commercial,multinational nature. Moreover, low levels of digital health and literacy even among health practitioners is a major barrier to the widespread use and adoption of technology- based health innovations and products, further complicated by climate-related concerns.
TECH AND CLIMATE ACTION: INNOVATION IN PROTECTION
Although the G7 decided to make climate risk disclosures mandatory in June 2021, the need for understanding and quantifying emission baselines become a complex exercise for enterprises regardless of their size. “Green enterprises,” a twin strategy combining economic growth with environmental sustainability, are no different. ASEAN’s growing internet economy– USD 100 billion (2019) and expectedto triple by 2025 – would help businesses advance sustainability efforts through technology investments, bolstered by ASEAN’s Digital Integration Framework Plan 2025, taking place alongside the Comprehensive Recovery Framework. Green enterprises in Singapore, for example, are expected to grow at an exponential pace by 2030 with up to 70 percent coming from overseas markets, leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data.China recently unveiled an ambitious five-year economic plan that aims to prioritize innovation and technology across sustainability initiatives.
Currently, Africa is the leading global destination for offgrid solar investment with USD 24 billion invested in 2020. However, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF), most of the investment flows to non-African companies or ventures are based on outdated risk assessments profiles that keeps critical funding out of the hands of African entrepreneurs.Several top tech companies – including the likes of Amazon, Apple, Alphabet,and Meta – were criticized for numerous reasons at COP 26,180 yet companies elsewhere are actively participating in climate change initiatives, cognizant of the fact that digital technology could help reduce carbon emissions by about 17 percent. On Digital Day 2021, for example, 25 companies signed the European Green Digital Coalition pledge spearheaded by the European Commission and endorsed by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to develop digital green solutions and take active measures towards carbon neutrality.
HONEST POLITICS: TECH.-ENABLED RIGHTS-BASED GOVERNANCE AND SOCIAL MEDIA PLAT FORMS
Technology has, in many cases, enabled individuals to enjoy their human rights,especially freedom of expression with the help of social media and digital platforms.However, technologies have increased exposure to newer risks such as government censorship and hate speech in digital spaces through algorithms designed to filter offensive or unacceptable content online.According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, internet censorship and restricted internet access remain common forms of harassment in countries like Pakistan and Syria.
China and Iran use complex filtering and content blocking measures to control social interaction in digital spaces while in Turkey, internet service providers (ISPs) have been mandated to crack down on “expressions of dissent” towards the government. Africa in 2021, according to cyber security company Surfshark, became the most censorship-intensive continent across the globe,responsible for nearly 53% of all internet disruptions that were related to protests and/or elections.Restrictions on digital platforms have increased in the wake of the pandemic.Despite UN’s urge for human rights compliance, governments around the world attempted to legitimize pervasive surveillance measures through facial recognition and privacy-invading contact tracing apps while social media companies regulated information dissemination with concerning commercial interest.Global tech companies must respect the digital policies as embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over their commercial interest. States and private enterprises should comply in accordance with the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.Moreover, as the implementation of AI/ML systems increases in our daily lives, data sets used to train these systems will unfortunately result in biases that may have detrimental lifelong consequences for individuals based on their social and/or economic identities.
» Data is more than just a “new oil”. It is the bedrock of a rights-based and user-centered environment in the 21st century «
Understanding what can be termed ethical AI or ML, therefore, is important for developing policies that address inherent biases, providing citizens with dispute mechanisms.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Any technological change would cause systemic disruptions to fundamental ways of interaction within any context. The numerous characteristics that define any new technology are determined by the way communities interact both with and without it. Governance of technological interventions lies in ensuring existing institutions anticipate, reform and adapt to normative social issues as they arise in response to the after-effects of technological disruptions. In a post-pandemic context, it is without doubt that technology will bolster global economic recovery but must not be without appropriate regulation to avoid potential negative fallout,such as an increase in inequality and abuses of power.The rapid pace of emerging technologies can inspire resilience and adaptability among human beings, but it must be kept in check with appropriate ethical guidelines that address gaps in governance through a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure their equitable, fair, and just use194 without necessarily slowing down innovation and progress. Numerous examples of multi-stakeholder collaboration that spark innovation and increase public trust already exist. Japan’s expe-rience with cryptocurrency and Finland’s open-data approach to transport are existing examples.A digital future is indeed possible, provided they are grounded in fundamental rights and laws that keep one safe from unlawful persecution. Data is more than just a “new oil.” It is the bedrock of a rights-based and user-centered environment in the 21st century.
Journal Link (Start from page no-88): www.global-solutions-initiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Global-Solutions-Journal-Issue-8.pdf