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e-Government -- Can We Trust Our Politicians? 21 August 2000 Edition
Previous Edition

It's the buzz-word of the year 2000 -- "e-Government" - and our own politicians are as keen as anyone to show how smart they are by dropping it into polite conversation with only the slightest provocation.

Nobody can doubt the obvious benefits that will come from providing the public with a more efficient interface with the various mechanisms of government and the services it provides -- but at what cost?

I'm not talking about issues such as privacy -- I'm talking about dollars and cents.

Governments around the world have shown themselves to be incredibly incompetent in spending taxpayers money on hi-tech computer systems -- and ours would appear to be amongst the most adept at squandering the public purse on e-follies.

Does anyone remember INCIS? Just one example of how huge amounts of money can be wasted by bureaucrats with their fingers in the bottomless pit that is the taxpayer's wallet.

And today we see in a story published on Stuff (linked in the headlines section below) that the IRD's ill-implemented attempt to move part of its operation online cost each and every taxpayer nearly a dollar -- for a total of $2.5 million just to buy the digital certificates and supporting hardware involved. And who was the idiot who chose technology which forced the use of the Microsoft's Windows platform -- effectively levying an extra cost on all the very happy Apple and Unix users who had to plonk out money for a WinTel system just to file their returns? This is what I mean by having no regard for the public purse.

I wonder whether these career bureaucrats would have spent public funds so readily on such badly analysed, designed and implemented schemes if, like so many entrepreneurial startups and small businesses, it was money secured against their own houses and future?

Readers Say
Thanks for your article on e-government - John

Have Your Say
Of course I'm the first to acknowledge that designing and implementing sophisticated IT systems is a minefield that even seemingly accomplished experts often have trouble negotiating without picking up the odd piece of shrapnel in the buttocks (just look at the new Domainz Registry project for an example) -- but when you're dealing with the public purse there should be an even higher duty of care involved.

What I'd like to know from Government is -- who do they have onboard with a proven track-record in the conception, design, implementation and operation of sophisticated online systems?

It worries me that, for whatever reason, we could end up with yet another major fiasco, at the taxpayer's expense, if the e-Government team is headed and driven by academics and "experts" who maybe haven't actually been there, done that, and certainly don't have the tee-shirt. If there's one thing that the proliferation of "Internet experts" has shown it's that just about anyone can sound like an expert if they spout enough verbiage -- but only a very few actually have any kind of track-record in implementing large-scale, sound, reliable, effective, cost-effective solutions.

Having corresponded with a few individuals involved in online systems within the Government's many departments I can say that there are obviously some very bright people working in there -- but even their best efforts can be totally screwed when you bring in management that can't even spell "Net."

I'm not about to pre-judge the latest e-Government initiatives -- but I'd certainly like some reassurance that it's not going to become another INCIS or Ir-File.

Certainly the appointment of Brendan Boyle to head up this initiative would seem to be a good step in the right direction if reports of his successes elsewhere are to be believed. What do you think?

Time To Lighten Up?
Well it seems that light relief is popular. Thanks to all those who emailed me to say that they'd love the "Time to Lighten Up" section made into a regular segment. I'll try to include it every Friday -- so if you have some worthy sites to suggest, fire them off and I'll take a look.

There's a wealth of good hi-tech ideas in this country and a number of them are being turned into excellent products or services. Unfortunately for the country, they are often snapped up by savvy overseas companies just as they start to show a profit. How good is that for NZ's economy?

Well, I have it on good authority that yet another of NZ's rising stars in the new economy may well be about to become a foreign entity. Bye-by jobs for Kiwis, bye-bye overseas earnings, wake up government!

Details will follow soon I hope.

As always, your feedback is welcomed.

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Copyright © 2000, Bruce Simpson, free republication rights available on request