2 August 2004
The government has launched phase one of its “people first” Internet gateway, giving individuals, organisations and foreigners a single entry point to government services and information, organised according to user needs rather than government structures.
The new e-government gateway – www.gov.za – offers visitors two main paths.
The information portal – www.info.gov.za – carries comprehensive, updating information on government contacts, departments, events and projects, as well the latest government speeches, statements, notices, tenders and consultative documents. National, provincial and local government links are easily accessible, along with information on the country and frequently asked questions on issues ranging from business to travel and tourism.
The services portal – www.services.gov.za – breaks down into services for individuals, services for organisations, and services for citizens from other countries.
In each case, services are organised intuitively, according to user need rather than place within a bureaucratic structure. The visitor, in other words, needs no knowledge of which section of which department offers a particular service – all he or she needs to know is what he or she wants from the government.
Information on services for South Africans, for example, is organised according to “life events” – giving birth, a place to live, the world of work, relationships and sexuality, dealing with the law, and so on.
Not just via the Internet
The gateway project will be extended to South Africans living in poorer or more remote areas via public information terminals in post offices and the government’s expanding network of multi-purpose community centres (MPCCs) countrywide.
Other channels for government services will include ATMs and Uthingo outlets, and public servants will be trained to help people access these channels.
During the first phase of the gateway, citizens will be assisted by specially trained community development workers at nine selected MPCCs and 55 postal facilities. Forty community development workers have so far been trained to carry out the programme in Gauteng.
Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi has called on people to comment on the gateway “so that we can upgrade it to become more user-friendly where necessary”.
Way forward for e-government in SA
In its next phase, the e-government gateway will move from offering information on services – what services there are, who qualifies for them, where and how to access them – to enabling users to make online transactions.
Services in high demand – such as pension payouts, payment of taxes, housing subsidies and birth and death registrations – will be the first to be “e-enabled”, with the Centre for Public Service Innovation (CPSI) predicting that this “basic access level” of e-government will be in operation some time in 2006 or 2007.
The subsequent, “intermediate level” of e-government will see more services becoming available over the Internet, including the ability to transact with government, with the focus on self-service and empowerment.
According to the CPSI, a later, “advanced” level of e-government will see more complex transactions – such as applying for an ID book or passport – taking place online, as well as easier access to small business and educational resources.
Between 2005 and 2008, the CPSI says, e-government should become available via mobile services and should include the ability to transact with government, with new technology, including communication using electricity power lines, playing an important role at this level.
South Africa’s e-government strategy is led by the CPSI in partnership with the Department of Public Service and Administration and the State Information Technology Agency.
In Accenture’s recently released fifth annual global e-government survey, South Africa took last place of the 22 countries listed.
Herman Manson of Mediatoolbox notes, however, that South Africa “was the only African country and one of only several developing economies researched, and should see its inclusion in the survey as a commendation of what have been achieved to date”.