E-Government Portal Welcomed - But With Caution
E-Government Portal Welcomed
CAB cautions government on e-reliance
The launch of the Government’s e-government portal has today been welcomed by Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) as a forward-thinking and innovative initiative. However CAB also has a message of caution for the Government that it risks failing many people if it focuses too heavily on providing its services through the internet.
According to Nick Toonen, CEO of the New Zealand Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, “The Government has stated that ‘by 2004 the internet will be the dominant means of enabling ready access to government information, services and processes.’ While we welcome the e-government portal as an important means for some people to access government information and services, we are concerned that the Government is not adequately addressing the needs of people who do not have access to the internet, or do not want to access information this way”
“The 2001 Census shows that 63% of households in New Zealand do not have access to the internet. These information ‘have-nots’, who tend to be poorer, less educated or new migrants, are going to miss out on information to help them make life decisions and access key social services.”
“For many people accessing information is about much more than words on a screen – even if they have the skills, literacy and internet access to enable them to use the e-government portal, they may have questions and concerns a computer cannot address, and need support in accessing information.
“More than 60% of CAB’s 570,000 enquiries annually relate to government information and services. This says to us that people use our service because they want person-to-person contact. Often they have been unable to access government directly because many departments have closed their front line offices and are relying instead on call centres. We are concerned that the move towards e-government represents a continuation of this trend and a further withdrawal of government from the community.
“Access to good information for everyone in society is important to help people make good life decisions. This is a responsibility of government.
“While e-government provides an important option for some people, we are concerned that government take a strategic approach to broader aspects of information access, including other ways people access information from government departments, and the vital role community organisations such as CAB play.
“We call on the government to develop a whole-of-government approach that looks strategically at all aspects of government information provision for New Zealand, including government’s own actions, CAB, libraries and e-government.
“When the e-government strategy was launched the government stated that it ‘expected an increased use of intermediaries such as Citizens Advice Bureau’. To fill this role, we need a clear place in overall information strategies, and sufficient resources and funding. The development of a New Zealand information strategy would begin to address these issues.”