Page 5 of 10KEY ISSUES SHAPING THE REGULATORY APPROACH TO ICT MARKETS IN ASIA
This section of the chapter looks at the four key issues that we believe will play an instrumental role in shaping ICT regulatory approaches in several jurisdictions in Asia. The four issues are:
Citizen-focused e-Government Services
"E-Government" services refers to the provision of government services, from taxation and licensing through to passport application and issuance, via electronic means. While the overall concept of e-government can often have a wider meaning,4 we use this limited view of e-government because it offers a minimum threshold of e-government or a common baseline goal for e-government services that any government should aspire to.
E-Government has come a long way in Asia, from basic computerization of government records to a stage where at least in developed ICT markets, the availability of e-government services is a given. Governments and regulators in these markets must now think about the next stage of evolution as technology and penetration rates expand the scope of possibilities and service delivery channels for e-government services.
As may be expected, the state of e-government services in different Asian jurisdictions depends in large part on the stage of development of the ICT market in those jurisdictions. Generally, the more developed the ICT market, the greater the capability of regulators. This is due to the added experience garnered from facing and resolving a greater range of issues in deeper and more developed ICT markets.5
Singapore and Japan provide an interesting contrast in terms of the content and timing of their approaches to e-government services. Singapore has had a long and reasonably fruitful experience with e-government. It has long passed the need for developing policies enabling the delivery of basic e-government services,6 and is now grappling with the issue of how to deliver e-government services as seamlessly as possible over multiple channels in a bandwidth-rich and increasingly bandwidth-irrelevant environment (in the case of bandwidth-intensive applications). This is evident from the kinds of policies the government is pursuing under iGov 2010, such as issuing unique establishment identifiers, rollout of services via the mobile phone channel, and build out of a common operating platform across all ministries and departments responsible for the provision of e-government services to ensure a seamless user experience and a unified backend.7
Japan began thinking about the large-scale deployment of e-government services around 1994 and seriously started implementing e-government programs around 2000, which seems surprisingly late for a "technology leader". Given the high levels of technology infrastructure and penetration rates prevalent in Japan, it is not surprising that the primary focus of e-government policies is similar to that of governments and regulators in other ICT leading jurisdictions such as the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan. Specifically, Japan is concerned with refining the user experience of e-government services as well as unifying the backend to enhance processing times and lower costs for the government.
The picture looks a little different, but reasonably encouraging, in China and India. China and India's paths to ICT market development and e-government adoption have been somewhat counter-intuitive. In China ICT development and e-government adoption were a result of the Politburo's belief in the virtues of effective computerization as a means of achieving progress. Early policies encouraging computerization and the adoption of information technology as a tool for more efficient governance ultimately paved the way for the growth of the ICT sector. In contrast, in India the ICT sector grew because the government never seriously regulated the sector, allowing the entrepreneurial spirit and elusive providence to work together without over-regulation driving a wedge between the two.
That said, both China and India have work to do to catch up with developed Asian jurisdictions in e-government. While both countries have made headway in the computerization of government backend, they have some way to go before a streamlined suite of government services will be available. To be fair, this has as much to do with the size and added complexity of larger jurisdictions as with political will and priority government agendas. Additionally, in China and India improving technology penetration and literacy rates in rural areas is arguably a higher priority than focusing resources on rolling out a flawlessly functioning suite of e-government services.
Something that both governments should try to get done sooner rather than later is to improve access to information and transparency in government decision-making through the use of ICT. There is arguably real scope for curbing corruption if there is political will to implement systems that enable the public to access information and trace government decisions to individual civil servants at all levels (Bhatnagar 2004). Political will is the key to making such a system work, from the minister ordering system implementation, to the civil servant who needs to submit data on decisions, to his or her superiors who must resist the temptation to doctor publicly accessible data entries where there appears to be incentive to do so and there is no means of tracing any actual tampering of data entries. India has made progress in this regard with the enactment of the Right to Information Act 2005 (IRTI Act). However, there remains under Section 8(1) of the IRTI Act significant discretion vested in the public authorities to refuse disclosure of certain information. While most of the grounds for refusal are valid (such as confidential information that may adversely impact national security or undermine sovereignty), certain provisions, such as Sub-sections 8(1)(d) and (e) - where the "competent authority [i.e. the relevant government department] is satisfied that larger public interest warrants the disclosure of such information" - could be used to arbitrarily deny requests for information. Admittedly, there will always be discretion involved in the disclosure of information, as what information is revealed, at least in some cases, is a political choice.
Countries like Singapore and Japan on one hand, and China and India on the other hand, can learn from each other the virtues they have each developed in their respective geopolitical realities. The developed ICT markets of Japan, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan share the common factor of being relatively small countries with relatively small domestic markets (except for Japan). In contrast, China and India are very large markets and therefore more complex, with a far higher volume of data points, increased dispersion around the mean due to the existence of multiple economic sectors with different averages and income scales, and increased skewing at the lower end of the income scale. All these amount to a more unpredictable environment for planning e-government services across a range of diverging and increasingly competing sociopolitical objectives. Specifically, in China and India, large disparities in income means e-government service choices that benefit one segment versus another, and it becomes difficult to justify these choices to a segment for which they pose no significant tangible benefit. For example, consider the policy choice between allocating limited resources to the development of an e-government procurement portal for agricultural produce and the development of a portal designed to make it easier to apply for venture funding from a government-backed incubator. Which agency gets the requested funding? How is the choice justified?
Nevertheless, China and India can learn from developed ICT jurisdictions how to formulate implementable policy and how to develop the talent to decisively execute such policy. These two factors would arguably form part of any equation of success in an e-government services strategy. On the other hand, what the regulators in the developing markets of China and India can teach the developed ICT jurisdictions is how to formulate policy that needs to be coordinated across state and federal levels, and that impact far larger and more diverse populations and markets than a relatively small domestic market. This can help regulators in developed ICT jurisdictions to incubate and develop the domestic ICT talent seeking to build or improve its competitive position in global markets.
This section on e-government has been deliberately selective in looking at the state of e-government in developed ICT markets and the developing markets of China and India. It has not taken an in-depth look at the markets lying between these two points on the ICT development continuum, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where e-government deployments have been on a lesser scale and where the full potential of such services has yet to be realized. We now turn to the issue of ICT regulation and the role of policy in improving access to education.