The State of E-Government in Latin America
Editor’s note: This comprehensive profile on the state of e-government in Latin America was originally published on the personal blog of Juan Arellano. It was translated into English by Siân Sinnott and been edited by David Sasaki.
Discussing E-government in Latin America — that is, beyond poorly articulated plans for vague initiatives — could seem utopian given the technological underdevelopment of governments in these countries. However, taking an interest in this matter is hardly new in this part of the world. In 2005 a blog, precisely named, E-government, commented that [sp]:
… while developed countries so clearly find themselves amidst a dizzying spiral of the acquisition and application of knowledge as well as transforming government functions, developing countries, especially in Latin America, face enormous obstacles. These include the purchasing and implementation of information technology, as well as weak democracies headed by leaders with little or no desire to push for the process of modernization centered around the use of information technology, which has proven necessary in public management. Furthermore, civil participation is minimal.
This was a depressing, yet accurate diagnosis. However, it is now 201. Have things changed? First, let’s look more closely at what exactly E-government is. Wikipedia offers a brief definition: “ E-Government’ (or Digital Government) is defined as ‘The utilization of the Internet and the World Wide Web to deliver government information“. Although the vast majority of Latin American countries have made progress in the use of technology for information management, sharing government data to increase transparency and accountability is still not exactly a characteristic of the region.
In previous posts we have tried to investigate two pillars of e-government in Latin America: open government and open data. The OAS, in its monthly information newsletter on new developments in this field, published an interview with José Manuel Alonso, a Spanish IT analyst and consultant, in which he emphasized and reflected on, the importance of open government and open data:
E-government is characterized by the delivery of services and processes, and on its ease of use compared to offline alternatives. In other words, it technologizes existing processes. However, e-government, in general, reflects the government’s vision regarding what society requires without integrating society’s own vision. This has changed recently in light of the movement, now known as “Open Government,” of which “Open Data” is an essential pillar. It also requires a change in government processes and culture, since part of the power that is usually held by government is transferred to society.
Transparency, participation and collaboration can be seen as steps toward the path of “Open Government”. If society doesn’t have access to enough information, how can there be transparency? How can you have an opinion on something that you don’t understand or are only half familiar with?
Unlike platforms built with open data, which usually come from citizens or civil society, and tend to have little government support , e-government comes from governmental institutions, and although citizens can lobby for it, it’s not worth much if the government itself isn’t interested in implementing it and making it “open”. Therefore, I think the OAS’s attempt to spread these ideas among technocrats of Latin America is important. And with this in mind we can call upon a new and interesting example from the Uruguayan government Agency for E-government and Information Society (AGESIC), which recently organized the 1st International E-Government Event: “Towards an Integrated State”.
The two-day event had the objective of “proposing an agenda which would take on the different dimensions of e-government (technonology, simplifying processes, digital citizenship; and regulatory frameworks) to make the integration with public administration a central focus, directed toward citizens”. This sounds great but Damián Profeta, who attended the event raises some important questions about the balance between the transparency of public information and the privacy of personal data:
And what happens to an individual’s sensitive information? Should this be accessible to third parties? What is and isn’t sensitive information? How do we reconcile access to public information with protecting of personal data?
Of course these are valid questions, especially in the context of increasing cybercrime, networks, the use of online networks by terrorists, and increasing threats to privacy. In one interview on e-government, Dr. Pablo Andres Palazzi, a specialist in data protection, argues that:
both transparency (access to public information) and privacy are fundamental pillars of a democratic society and are in short supply in totalitarian states. In the laws regarding access to public information there are always exceptions for personal data and this is where a balance is found between both interests.
If we truly want to gauge the current state of e-government in Latin American, we must look at each country’s proposed and implemented legislation. In the meantime, we can review some of the various government initiatives have been launched throughout the region and link to the relevant resources:
Mexico: The Latin American leader of e-government has a strategy for digital government on its national
digital government website. Furthermore, the site e-México provides access to government services and encourages civil participation. You can see an extensive analysis of e-government in Mexico from 2008 here and CNN México also recently published a related article. The magazine Política Digital (Digital Politics) is a good source of news on the topic, especially in its eGob México section. There is also the site Improve Your Government which brings together articles on e-government in Mexico as well as the University of Guadalajara’s E-government Observatory.
Guatemala: Although the government webpage doesn’t seem to focus on the digital efforts of the Guatemalan government, there is a list of such efforts here. Some more recent updates have been added in this post. A 2008 critique on the maintenance of e-government can be found here.
Honduras: In Honduras’ case there is an official government site but it appears to be offline at the time of writing this post. Alianza Regional published an analysis of the country’s various online platforms in 2007.
El Salvador: This seems to be the country where e-government is least developed, at least according to the 2007 Alianza Regional report. The presidential website isn’t particularly helpful for citizens interested in accessing government services. However, we can see here how the situation is beginning to improve in 2010 with several new efforts. In 2009 Salvadoran blogger Lito Ibarra published a helpful post with more context on e-government developments in his country.
Nicaragua: You can find the Nicaraguan e-government website here. It includes a link to the 2007 Alianza Regional report, which shows that the state of e-government in Nicaragua has apparently taken a step backward. Also of interest are these notes by Juan Ortega from a 2008 e-government workshop.
Costa Rica: The government of the Republic of Costa Rica hosts the Easy Government website where users can find a Digital Government section, which presents its proposals and outreach. You can also look through a draft of the Master Plan for Digital Government in Costa Rica (PDF), compiled in conjunction with the South Korean Government. Recently the implementation of e-government in 30 of the country’s municipalities has been announced. Here (PDF) is an evaluation of e-government in Costa Rica from 2009.
Panamá: Another country whose e-government website is apparently unavailable. However, the country’s 311 platform online service platform and “Internet for All” websites seem to be fulfilling the country’s e-government functions. Official attempts at e-government have been made since 2002 at least, as evidenced by this report. In 2007 this report was posted to evaluate some of the government websites. You can see an interview here with one of the civil servants who was responsible for modernizing the Panamanian state with the use of technology.
Venezuela: The site Government On-Line has access to government resources and information. You can see the history of e-government in Venzuela dating up to 2006 here and a contextual summary from 2009. This e-book about Venezuelan e-government includes information which dates to 2010. Another interesting initiative is the E-Government Observatory which compiles data on this topic from Venezuela and Latin America.
Colombia: One of the few countries with a Ministry of Information Technology, Colombia is home to several initiatives and almost all are accessible from the State Portal. In 2008 a study found that Colombia was third in an e-goverment ranking of Latin American countries and in 2010 it ranked first. An article about this with some suggestions for improvement can be found here. At the municipal level, Medellín Digital is a very good example and Colombia Digital is a initiative that compiles various local technology projects.
Ecuador: There are two portals here: Electronic Government which is quite a technical site and Citizen Services. In this report we find a brief analysis of the current state of e-government in Ecuador.
Perú: The Peruvian State Site acts as a promotional tool for the government while the National Office for E-Government is more informative. This is a short but relevant analysis on the state of e-government in Peru. It should be emphasized that recently implemented rules require greater accessibility to government information.
Bolivia: The Bolivian Government website looks a little basic and is directed primarily at linking to other government websites rather than facilitating services for citizens but this, at least, is something. Also of interest is this book (PDF) published by FLACSO which details experiences of e-government in Pasto, Colombia; Quito, Ecuador, and La Paz, Bolivia.
Chile: In recent years Chile has been one of the countries that has made the most progress on this matter. Its government site directs us to, among other options, their Guide to State Services which has detailed information on each service. An interesting report on the evolution of e-government in Chile can be found here (PDF). Recently, the OECD and others published a ranking of the progress made in e-government in Chilean municipalities. At the moment Chile is second in rankings in terms of regional progress.
Argentina: Similar to Chile, the Argentine government site directs us to tabs and different options for services and advice. An analysis of e-government in one Argentinian municipality can be found here. There are several opinions from a recent forum here and there are reports on the status of Argentinian e-government in this document (PDF) as well as here. In previous years Argentina has been first in e-government at the Latin American level.
Paraguay: The Paraguayan Government Site leads us to its Paraguay Services, directed at citizens and businesses. Paraguay is another country which benefits from an agreement with South Korea on this matter. Here is an analysis of the situation of Paraguayan e-government which unfortunately does not indicate the date of the analysis.
Uruguay: The Uruguayan government’s page is rather minimalist and directs the user to the service they want to carry out. An exemplary initiative is that of the Administrative Division of Montevideo, that offers open data to citizens. The AGESIC or “Agency for the Development of Electronic Management and Society of Information and Knowledge”, is the body responsible for progress on the matter. Here is a report from 2009 when Uruguay begun to commit with vigor to the process of e-government. This document about the Uruguayan and Colombia cases from 2008 is also interesting.
While we can appreciate the different approaches and progress toward e-government in each country, there is generally greater interest in making more information and services available online. It can also be found in civil society and among the community of Latin American technocrats, leading governments down the road toward openness, simplification and the consolidation of services.
As I was finishing this post, I came across Ciudadanía/2.0 (Citizenship/2.0), a new initiative which is linked with many of the issues in this post. A blatant omission in this little compilation is that of Brazil and other non-Spanish speaking countries of Latin America. I hope you can excuse this. If you have anything to add or any corrections to make I would be grateful if you could post them in the comments section.