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Monday, Dec 23, 2002

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E-Government

THE news that, on December 17, the US President, Mr George W. Bush, signed into law The Electronic Government Act, is of historic significance. It not only promises to revolutionise the attitude of public servants and citizens towards each other in the US, but also embodies a model for all other governments which take seriously their duties and obligations to voters, taxpayers and people at large.

The new law brings into being an Office of Electronic Government headed by an E-Administrator within the Office of Management and Budget functioning directly under the President. As the sponsor of the Bill Senator Joseph Lieberman put it, the Act launches the Federal Government fully into electronic age, "giving taxpayers the same round-the-clock access to government that they have come to expect from the private sector." The law lays down that all departments should treat the needs and interests of the citizens as paramount and place at their disposal all the information necessary to enable them to keep tabs on the performance of the government so that it does not deviate from their will and consent, there is full accountability and transparency in taking decisions, and all services intended for them are speedily within their reach.

A visit to the eGov and FirstGov websites giving effect to the objectives of the legislation is an invigorating experience. It mentions a number of initiatives to involve all sections of the people in the systems and processes of governance. For instance, the Government Without Boundaries programme looks at government policies from the citizens' perspective. The aim is to make government people-friendly at all levels without having to spend money on intermediaries. It is impressed on government employees that their bounden duty is to equip themselves with the skill and competence necessary to fulfil the wishes and expectations of the people. From now on, facilities will be available online for obtaining loans and grants of every kind, tax refunds, clearances for international trade transactions, compensation for deficiency of service and disaster relief, to cite only a few examples. The management of government records is to be streamlined so that it will be possible for anyone putting in his request under the Freedom of Information Act to get it online for the asking. An important adjunct of the E-Government is the Rural Outreach Programme which will specially focus on the needs of remote rural communities helping them plug into the network of services.

Since the law has just come into force, all the benefits envisaged under it may take some time to materialise. That it makes the government of the people, by the people and for the people a reality, admits of no doubt, however.

B.S. Raghavan

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