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Since the innovation of the microchip computer, our lives have become dependant on a broad range of services such as banking and communication that are reliant on computer technologies. Computer technologies have therefore found their way at the doorstep of governments as a necessity for the provision of efficient services to citizens.
The United Arab Emirates government has in particular integrated with computer technologies in a broader and a more comprehensive way than any other country In the Gulf region. The UAE has therefore continued to progress towards Electronic government. In this direction, government departments in the UAE have employed computers to store important data and information.
On another level, government departments have been able to interact and exchange information through platforms like the intranet and the internet. Besides, the UAE government has availed information about its services at internet websites for access. Some of the government websites in the UAE are interactive; hence, it has been possible for people to obtain a host of services through the internet platform. Besides, the UAE government has been able to interact and implement transactions with other governments and business companies online.
In multiple ways, the UAE has been at an advantage to integrate with E-Government technologies. First, the UAE has been making resilient efforts to broaden its economy so that dependence on oil revenues is reduced (Al Maktoum 2003). This direction has seen an emphasis on the development of the financial and tourism sectors (Al Maktoum, 2003).
It has therefore been necessary to integrate computer technologies that can provide updated services that are competitive on the global scale in these sectors (Tourism and Finance). Generally, the UAE has a good infrastructure which has served to promote the use of Electronic governance by the government. The integration of the UAE economy with the global economy has helped to avail experienced IT experts in the UAE. The UAE has benefited enormously from the services of these IT experts in the development of its IT and hence- E-Governance infrastructure (Ayish, 2004).
Besides, a large section of the populace that resides in the UAE is economically empowered with access to internet connections and mobile telephones (Ayish, 2004). According to the international communications union, in 2006, over 90% of the UAE citizens had access to mobile telephones; besides, half of the populace in the UAE had access to the internet (Bal, 2006).
Importantly, UAE leaders such as Sheikh Mohamed have been leading efforts towards the adoption of E-Governance in the UAE (Bal, 2006). In the year 2000, an important phenomenon in IT occurred following the launch of the Dubai Internet City (DIT) (Ayish, 2004). Under its auspices, DIT has integrated leading and significant players from IT who have helped in the design and development of E-Governance in the UAE (Ayish, 2006).
In 1976, the UAE Telecommunications Corporation (commonly referred to as “Etisailat”) was established by the UAE government (Ayish, 2006). By 2001, “Etisalat” had easily risen to become the leading telecommunications company in the Gulf region with a market value that comprised about 30% of the total value of the UAE market capitalization (About $ 27 billion) (Ayish, 2006). “Etisalat” has endeavored to provide high class services of high quality for its telephone and internet users (Ayish, 2006).
Services that are provided by “Etisalat” are almost on the same scale with telecommunication services that are provided in more developed economies in Europe and North America (Al Maktoum, 2003). Although the UAE government has continued to maintain a 60% share of “Etisalat”, the company has continued to provide quality services and has helped in the development of E-governance in the UAE (Ayish, 2004). Among the services that are offered by “Etisalat” include web hosting services, provision of knowledge portals, internet dial up and dedicated circuits (Ayish, 2004).
Generally, The UAE has implemented a range of programs to provide government services in an E-Governance model (Bal, 2006). In the UAE, the finance ministry has been given a role of implementing E-governance within the UAE (Bal, 2006). Through partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the UAE has made efforts towards the realization of ISO 9000 so as to enhance the capacity of the government in the provision of quality and efficient services to people (Busaidy, 2008).
A significant approach that has been adopted in the UAE has been the incorporation of women in Information technology programs (Busaidy, 2008). Through the aid of United Nations Environmental Science and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a policy to integrate women in IT employment and training has been implemented (Bal, 2006).
In the UAE, the Emirate government has created websites that provide information to people on a host of services that are offered in their state. The Dubai portal website has a host of information that has been precisely designed to meet the needs of tourists, businessmen and the people of the UAE (Bal, 2006). Information provided at the Website has been broadly categorized into: Employment, education, health, tourism, transportation, housing and entertainment. Government services can be accessed by searching relevant departments through the aid of a search box at the site (Bal, 2006).
In case one is not oriented with government departments, one can access government services by searching for resident services, business services or visitor services (Saidi, 2002). The government portal can even be used offline by filling- in online forms which are re-routed later to a relevant department in the government that provides the required service (Saidi, 2002). The crown prince for the Dubai emirate has a personal website at http//www.sheikhmohamed.co.ae.htm (Bal, 2006).
The website has been created to enhance interactions between Sheikh Mohamed and Dubai citizens (Bal, 2006). Another important development in the UAE has been the introduction of a smart card by the UAE ministry of finance creating a framework for electronic payments to the government by citizens. Currently the UAE Government is in the process of implementing an electronic system of identification for citizens and visitors (Al-Khouri, 2006).
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E-Government websites in the UAE have been classified on a higher scale in accordance with the type of services that they provide. In the UAE, what is known as interactive e-publishing has been achieved (Saidi, 2002). Here internet users have been able to interact with a site in a manner that is oriented towards their personal needs (Saidi, 2002). An illustration of this personal interaction can be seen when users enter a unique address or postcode to access local information that is of use to them from a government department (Saidi, 2002).
Besides, one can be able to download and print forms from government departments (Bal, 2006). One can also fill government forms online and resend them to the relevant government department for processing. Moreover, it is possible to contact relevant government officials through emailing with an expectation of prompt responses from concerned officials (Bal, 2006). An interactive e-publishing site is accessed by government officials that are well trained to use the technology (Saidi, 2002). The Dubai internet portal, which will be described shortly, employ the services that have been described above.
Another type of government website in the UAE is a transactional website (Saidi, 2002). Here, it is possible for an internet user to implement unique transactions with the relevant government departments (Saidi, 2002). First, users are required to verify their identities in a manner that is both secured and authentic (Saidi, 2002). Once an identity has been verified, one can then undergo the next stage of performing transactions with the relevant government department (Saidi, 2002).
Such online transactions may include tax and fee payments. There are two types of transactions provided in a transactional web site. In one type of transaction, it is not necessary to provide previous information on initial transactions for one to make a new transaction (Saidi, 2002). An example of this type of transaction is the payment of bills from local councils (Bal, 2006).
In a more advanced kind of transactions, one is required to monitor the progress of a preceding application to make a new transaction (Saidi, 2002). An example of this type of transaction includes the application for a contract where payments are made on stages that are dependant on the success of a previous bid (Saidi, 2002). An example of a transactional website in the UAE that will be described shortly includes the online system for visa applications and the port clearance system (Bal, 2006).
Another type of a website found in the UAE includes a joined-up-e-governance website (Saidi, 2002). Here, the website is designed such that it is possible for a user to access multiple services from a single website; hence, allowing a user to access multiple departments and agencies from the government in a transparent way (Bal, 2006).
Several branches of the government can also interact and exchange information (Saidi, 2002). Moreover, a host of transactions can be implemented automatically through the interactive process of sharing information between various government agencies; therefore, eliminating the need for the physical intervention of a user to implement transactions (Saidi, 2002). The Dubai internet portal can also be classified as a joined-up-e-governance website (Bal, 2006).
Among the important milestones that have been made in Dubai as far as E-Governance is concerned is the use of the internet to provide a service that allows visa applications for tourists (Bal, 2006). Here, a tourist fills an online form and then prints it. The application form is printed with a bar code that contains (Electronically) the information that has been filled (Bal, 2006).
Time spent on filling and refilling of tourist information has therefore been significantly reduced; hence, creating convenience for both tourists and the government (Omari, 2006). The internet service for visa application has enabled the government of Dubai to process more than 3000 tourist applications in a single day (Bal, 2006). Besides, the government of Dubai has been able to reduce the visa application staff by about 50%; therefore, saving on salary expenses (Bal, 2006).
Besides, the police department in Dubai has developed and adopted a comprehensive program for the provision of important information to people (Omari, 2006). Through this service, Dubai citizens have access to a mobile platform via Short Message Services where they can obtain information such as traffic updates from the police department (Saidi, 2006). The police department offers the same service on their mobile phone website (WAP) (Bal, 2006).
At their mobile phone website, the police department provides information that is required for traveling on road. For example, the location of the nearest police station from one’s position. Besides, the police department avails a data set of cars that have been stolen and locations in shopping malls where motorist drivers can inquire whether they have been over speeding (as has been detected by radar cameras) (Bal, 2006).
The m-Dirham, named after the currency used in Dubai is an important technology that has been adopted by the Dubai government to provide financial services to citizens electronically (Bal, 2006). Here, Citizens have been enabled to store their money electronically in a financial institution for payment of permit fees among other services (Bal, 2006). From a sample of examples that have been given above, it is obvious that through the police department, Dubai has been able to implement important programs towards electronic government. Indeed, Dubai stands out easily when she is compared to her fellow emirates in the UAE in matters of E-Governance (Ayish, 2004).
Because of government reforms towards E-governance, Dubai has continued to attract investors and tourists; moreover, Dubai has continually progressed towards an economic center in the Gulf region (Ayish, 2004). For example, the integration of electronic services with government departments such as the Dubai Ports authority has provided efficient services to port users (Omari, 2006). Here, thousands of freight companies have been able to be cleared by the customs department within 24 hours; therefore, saving on time and expenses (Omari, 2006). Moreover, through the provision of online services, the government of Dubai has been able to cut costs that are associated with administration by more that 10% by (Omari, 2006).
As has been seen, the use of e-governance in the UAE has helped to provide efficient services such as visa application services for tourists (Al-Khouri, 2006). Such a direction towards E-governance has therefore helped to stimulate the expansion and diversification of the UAE economy (Al-Khouri, 2006). An important benefit that has tricked down to citizens with an origin in E-governance has been the promotion of an accountable and transparent government (Ayish, 2004).
Many activities of the UAE government can be monitored via interactive websites such as the Dubai portal; hence, promoting transparency in the process (Ayish, 2004). In most government websites, a common aspect that can be observed from these sites is a genuine effort by government departments to establish a two way traffic kind of communication that is both honest and transparent (Ayish, 2004).
A significant aspect of the UAE society that has been in development following the adoption of E-Governance is public relations management. Many government websites have presented themselves with a specific identity that has been commonly tied to their goals. For example, both the Dubai police department as well as the Abu Dhabi police department has presented themselves at their websites as efficient institutions that employ all methodologies including the use of advanced scientific methods to provide protection for all people within their jurisdictions (Ayish, 2004).
In an effort to develop a good relationship with the UAE populace, a number of government and private companies have implemented community development projects that can be tracked via their websites (Omari, 2006). For example, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has presented the efforts that it has made towards environmental conservation at its website (Ayish, 2004). It is also common to access a host of educational content from government and private websites in the UAE (Busaidy, 2008). Such a trend of providing educational content at websites has been pursued by government departments in order to encourage more people to visit their sites (Ayish, 2004).
Although the UAE has made admirable achievements towards the adoption of E-governance, it is important for the UAE government to continue in the progression towards improved E-governance services. Such a direction will address the present inadequacies in the present model of E-governance in the UAE. For example, government departments can enhance accountability and improve on public relations by constantly updating their identities as has been determined through tools like online surveys (Ayish, 2004). It would also be great to see a host of E-Governance technological and social innovations with an origin in the UAE emerge (Al Maktoum, 2003).
The UAE stands out in the Gulf region as a country that has continually aligned with emerging economic and social trends on the global scene. The UAE has therefore integrated fast with E-Governance as a step towards the provision of efficient services for the economic and social empowerment of its citizens. This direction has resulted in an advanced system of E-Governance that has been fueled by multiple factors such as a good telecommunication infrastructure and availability of economic resources; hence, rivaling the systems of E-governance that are present in more developed western nations. Considering the benefits that can be accrued through E-governance, it can only be hoped that the UAE will continue to improve and develop its present system of E-governance.
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