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Public Administration Reforms in the United Arab Emirates Essay

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Updated: Dec 23rd, 2020

Abstract

Globalization and newly emerging technologies are having a profound impact on the political environment and changing the way people, businesses, and governments interact. From the standpoint of public administration, the adoption of e-government is now an inevitable and unquestioned objective because it signifies a shift towards a new, customer-oriented management paradigm and has the goal of reducing costs and maximizing value during the provision of services to citizens.

This paper focuses on an examination of factors defining the success and failure of e-government programs, as well as specific methods and frameworks utilized to implement them. It begins with a review of the topic’s background and proceeds to a review of e-government projects implemented in the Dubai Police Force. It discusses the organization’s achievements and the challenges it currently faces. Also, it provides recommendations for further improvements based on its findings.

Introduction

Globalization, as a process of worldwide integration, is changing the face of public administration and governance. It modifies the way the public perceives governments because, with the help of technology, people have become able to advocate for their rights and interests more actively and to provide feedback to leaders, and thus require greater transparency and democratization. E-government platforms are regarded as an instrument to address these changes by improving the way governments interact with citizens.

The obvious advantages of e-government include facilitated access to services and information, organizational and individual cost-efficiency, and others. However, to ensure the effectiveness of e-government, it is critical to establish performance measures and make sure all necessary prerequisites for excellent performance are provided at the institutional and organizational levels. Therefore, this paper will aim to explore these factors, as well as methods utilized to deliver public administration reforms, while focusing on the analysis of digitalization efforts in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Dubai Police Force.

Globalization, E-Government, and Privatization

Definitions

Globalization is characterized by substantial changes in the way people interact, and these changes are driven by different forces. Technological innovation is one and probably the most remarkable of them. The newly emerging information technologies (ITs) have made it possible to remove artificial barriers that hinder learning and have substantially facilitated the overall process of knowledge development and economic growth (Farazmand 2006). Nevertheless, the impacts of the technological revolution extend beyond the economic sphere – they shape modern cultures and politics as well. The widespread construction of e-government platforms indicates that state leaders and public administrators recognize the significance of digitalization.

Overall, e-government implies the utilization of ITs within public service delivery value chains (Bwalya & Mutula 2016). Digital government platforms are considered to be an essential means for greater stakeholder accountability, government transparency, and democratization (Kassen 2013; Tolbert & Mossberger, 2006). During the initial stages of the Internet era in the 1990s, e-government was regarded only as a method for modernization and shifting away from traditional paper-based systems in public organizations (Kassen 2013).

At that time, the focus was on the provision of information, but early e-government frameworks did not provide sufficient opportunities for people to give feedback. Nowadays, with the advent of social media, digital governments have become more open and have begun providing interactive online services (Kassen 2013). This means that the e-government concept has obtained a more pronounced political significance over time by encouraging collaboration between the state and civil society.

To establish high-quality digital information systems, governments have to work together with partners operating within the IT industry. This need explains another important trend leading to changes in public management – public-private partnerships (PPPs). The number of PPPs has increased worldwide during recent years because governments see them as a way to better integrate e-business and e-commerce activities in distinct public entities, access expertise and professional knowledge offered by private entities, accelerate the construction of required infrastructures, and reduce costs (Kaliannan, Awang & Raman 2010).

In general, the trend for PPPs may indicate that public administration has become more entrepreneurial, competitive, and oriented towards customer satisfaction. It suggests a shift towards a novel, businesslike approach to public services, described by Pollitt and Bouckaert (2011) as the New Public Management (NPM) framework, which aims to maximize value for citizens and increase effectiveness.

As such, the appearance of competitive behaviors in the public sector is illustrative of broader environmental changes triggered by globalization. Such initiatives as PPPs make it possible to separate politics in its traditional sense from public administration. Additionally, by viewing the public as customers, the government gains an opportunity to become closer to citizens and show accountability for their interests. Thus, the existence of two-way exchanges of information, as well as public managers’ sensitivity to changes in customer attitudes, may be regarded as key to improving the cost-benefit ratio of public services in the NPM model.

Global Context

Nowadays, most countries are engaged in the process of e-government development, yet some of them are more successful than others. Kassen (2013) notes that from 1995 to 2007, when the e-government concept was first introduced, mainly the G-member states (Japan, the United States, Germany, and others) were included in the creation of the global information society while developing countries started to participate actively only after 2008.

When developing e-governments today, all involved parties implement such key features as the promotion of technology, private sector resources use, and the establishment of international and regional reform networks (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development [OECD] 2010; Cooper, Hughes & De Lombaerde 2008). Additionally, the main feature of current endeavors is the unification and standardization of platforms across the world (Kassen 2013).

Still, many countries remain excluded from the digitalization process because of a lack of the necessary cultural, infrastructure, and technological resources. For states with low Internet penetration and a high cost of access, it is difficult to have strong e-government platforms. Therefore, the overall socio-economic situation in the country may pose significant barriers to public governance reforms.

The OECD countries provide multiple examples of successful e-government practices. For instance, a program for online ration cards launched in Egypt, which aims to replace paper cards used by families for access to food subsidies, combines the features of e-government and PPP (OECD 2010). The program was supported by a private contractor that was able to accelerate the distribution of ration cards nationwide.

Moreover, an extra public value was added to the program by making it possible to utilize cards for accessing other services such as pension payments and others (OECD 2010). Another good example of a PPP is an Indian project, eSeva, whose purpose is to provide the government with hardware and software through multiple shops where citizens can access various online services, such as paying taxes and bills (Bhatnagar & Singh 2010).

These projects reveal the significance of e-government initiatives and suggest that public value, such as service and accessibility, may be a critical factor in defining the overall success of government digitalization. Successful e-government also requires a proper balance between the supply of online services and their demand by citizens and businesses. Therefore, the government should strive to mainstream digitalization and have a strong e-government vision as part of a comprehensive strategic plan. Figure 1 provides a summary of all the main e-government drivers.

Main factors of E-Government Efficacy.
Figure 1: Main factors of E-Government Efficacy.

UAE Context

The integration of e-government practices in all of its public service branches is one of the fundamental objectives of the government of Dubai. According to Al-Khouri (2012), the first e-service in the UAE was launched in 2001, and since 2004 the government has started negotiations and collaboration with Etisalat, a large local telecommunications company, for the development of e-government infrastructure.

Nowadays, thousands of miscellaneous online services are offered to UAE businesses and citizens through governmental portals. The majority of the UAE government departments currently offer online features, whereas 80% of all transactional services, such as e-stamps, e-Dirham, e-procurement systems, and others, are performed online (OECD 2010). Notably, the Dubai Smart Government Department has the mission of controlling all e-government initiatives in the emirate.

It ensures that e-government development efforts are in line with the overall national Vision 2021, which “foresees high quality of life built on world-class public infrastructure, government services and a rich recreational environment” (UAE mGovernment initiative 2018, para. 1).

Active collaboration with private partners and investment in technology infrastructure development and promotion of public awareness are signs of a supportive e-government culture in the UAE. Additionally, the country consistently receives high scores on various e-government indexes assessed across 193 countries by the United Nations (UN). As the results summarized in Table 1 show, the UAE received the highest scores in the human resource capital and telecommunication infrastructure categories.

These factors indicate the availability of human and technology resources, which are the basis for the success of e-government platforms because they ensure high quality of services and infrastructure maintenance, and they are a prerequisite for a greater level of stakeholder participation. Nevertheless, the current online services and e-participation scores are relatively low. The major reason for this is the formative stage of the UAE online services, insufficient level of citizens’ trust in those services, and the one-way direction of user-government communication (Alketbi 2018).

Nevertheless, the review of UAE digitalization initiatives makes clear that the necessary institutional framework for the enhancement of e-government is currently present in the country. Still, some improvements must be made to improve the effectiveness of the system.

Table 1: UAE Score on E-Government Indexes based on the 2014 UN Survey.

Index

Score

Telecommunication Infrastructure

43

Human Capital

117

Online Services

12

E-participation

13

Analysis and Discussion: The Case of the Dubai Police Force

Globalization and technological advances have affected the work of the Dubai Police Force. Nowadays, it implements a plethora of innovative devices throughout the law enforcement chain and also integrates modern IT to enhance internal knowledge management systems and databases. The establishment of the General Department of eServices of the Dubai Police Force in 2001 can be regarded as a primary strategic change in the organization’s governance (Government of Dubai 2018b).

This administrative body has the goal of providing the necessary support to different Dubai Police branches, and it coordinates digitalization processes among them. For instance, it focuses on differentiating online services offered by the Dubai Police Force to emirate residents. The list of over thirty services offered at the official Dubai Police website includes fine traffic payment, requests to open a criminal case, vehicle inspection requests, lost item inquiries, and many more (Government of Dubai 2018a).

Notably, the police referred to service use statistics to identify the most demanded services before transferring them into electronic form (Bishr 2012). By allowing people to access those services through various channels, including the Internet, specialized kiosks, mobile messaging, and others, the Dubai Police Force has managed to enhance the cost-benefit ratio at both individual and organization levels and has increased its competitiveness.

Ongoing technological innovation and widespread use of ITs have led to significant strategic changes in all public organizations. Specifically, these changes are related to staff training and recruitment of technologically savvy individuals, as well as the allocation of funds to IT infrastructure development and enhancement projects (Awadh & Al-Dhaafri 2010). The latter initiatives require a more detailed explanation in the case of the Dubai Police because the list of their PPPs is continually growing.

At the present moment, the police as a public entity work jointly with such private corporations as Avaya Inc. and Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). According to McBride (2014), these PPPs are motivated by the smart city vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, which aims to improve the overall quality of life in urban environments. For instance, together with Avaya, the Dubai Police developed self-service stations that were meant to provide more real-time customer engagement opportunities than traditional call centers (McBride 2014).

Additionally, with the help of crime mapping and recording systems from PITB, the police were able to enhance operand-based search processes and the human resource management practices because the technology allows storing complete profiles on individual officers (Khan 2017). This innovation has several implications for social responsibility and stakeholder accountability strategies in the organization. The recording of officers’ histories demonstrates the Police Force’s commitment to the principles of ethical conduct, minimizing the chance for workers’ misbehavior or violation of professional codes.

Nevertheless, with the utilization of ITs, the risk of data breaches arises and poses a significant threat to public security. According to Bishr (2012), this factor currently prevents the Dubai Police from meeting customers’ needs and expectations. At the same time, the organization recognizes the significance of the problem and is aware of the dangers to the entire government posed by it (Bishr 2012). However, current security measures require improvement to address public concerns.

To sum up the discussion, one can say that organizational readiness for e-government is defined by three major drivers: processes, technologies, and human capital. The examples of the Dubai Police initiatives reviewed here show that this organization is in the process of re-engineering various organizational processes, including law enforcement, human resource management, customer interaction, and others.

An excellent internal networking system developed through the use of modern technologies is one of the favorable primary outcomes for the Dubai Police in the nationwide digitalization reform. It is clear that, along with other departments, it is now taking a businesslike approach to public management and currently operates within the NPM framework to enhance customer satisfaction by maximizing benefits and value and minimizing costs.

Nevertheless, there are still some things to be done in regards to customer satisfaction with Dubai Police e-services, primarily a need for improvement in online transaction security. The organization should take into account the overall UAE scores in e-government performance and address the factors inhibiting the further success of digitalization and platform improvement. A low level of e-participation is currently the most significant factor. A more detailed summary of recommendations for performance enhancement will be given in the following section.

Recommendations

Security

Digitalization implies an increasing dependence on massive databases that frequently include sensitive and confidential information. Since the fear of fraud and hijacking is associated with a low level of citizens’ trust in online transactions, public organizations should aim to optimize data protection. The Dubai Police can use the same methodology in addressing this problem as the one that was implemented to design e-services.

It can analyze internal statistics to identify the most frequent type of incidents threatening the integrity of data and then design specific strategies to target them. For instance, Holtfreter and Harrington (2016) state that most data breaches take place due to internal factors: theft by employees, unintentional loss, and so on. The development of a corporate culture that incorporates the value of data security, staff training, and the implementation of relevant organizational policies will be appropriate steps toward risk reduction. For better outcomes, policies should specify which types of personal information can be legally disclosed in different circumstances.

Awareness of e-Government Initiatives

Formally, the Dubai Police Force meets the e-government criteria as it has a well-developed infrastructure and the necessary resources. However, the implementation of digitalization projects may be compromised due to an overall insufficient level of public outreach. The low UAE score on e-participation can be partially addressed through strategies aimed at improving security and reducing error rates (as discussed above).

However, it is also essential to make citizens aware of the public value of online services and e-government in general. According to Jaeger and Thompson (2003), when people are insufficiently educated about the benefits linked to e-government, “they will not likely seek to use the e-government, defeating the purpose of the development of e-government information and services” (p. 390).

Therefore, public education programs should be launched, and they must emphasize such benefits of online government platforms as transactional efficiency; better quality of governance, including multiple ethical implications such as reduced incidence of corruption (Bhatnagar & Singh 2010); and service convenience. To increase public awareness, the Dubai Police should work jointly with other governmental departments because a comprehensive approach is preferable. Additionally, the utilization of its private partners’ advertising channels and expertise may lead to even better results.

Networking and Collaboration

A collaborative environment is crucial for e-government efficiency and success. The analysis shows that the Dubai Police Force is actively engaged in several PPPs. Nevertheless, a partnership between different government departments is pivotal as well. At the present moment, most services offered by the Dubai/UAE ministries and public service departments seem not to be integrated, and, as a result, inconsistencies between departments and waste of valuable resources occur (OECD 2010).

Along with collaborating with other organizations in the public sector to enhance public outreach, the Dubai Police should strive to engage in the development of a single country-wide e-strategy. To do so, the organization can provide evidence gathered over the years of active digitalization and during the implementation of its advanced internal networking system to help the government design comprehensive policies and cross-boundary governance structures that would target current performance inconsistencies more effectively.

Conclusion

Globalization has triggered a need for public sector reforms, and e-government can be regarded as an effective means for delivering them. Along with providing an opportunity to address stakeholder interests, e-government is associated with such benefits as cost reduction and operational efficiency. Nevertheless, the findings of the literature review make it clear that to achieve these benefits, states must ensure the presence of the necessary factors: resources, infrastructure, public awareness, culture, and strategic plans. It also was shown that PPPs allow governments to increase the chance for success in the implementation of effective e-government projects because by working with private entities, they may manage expenses and more effectively access important professional resources.

The UAE actively invests in the digitalization of public services and the development of online government platforms. The case of the Dubai Police illustrates this well: the organization currently provides a plethora of e-services and continually strives to increase its operational efficacy by using ITs and PPPs. Nevertheless, there are still some barriers to the success of smart government initiatives. These barriers include security risks, an insufficient level of customer trust and awareness, and a lack of collaboration among governmental departments. Therefore, to achieve better performance outcomes, the organization should engage in more networking endeavors, participate in public education and policymaking, and implement strategies to minimize the threat of data breaches.

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