E-services fail to click with public

Dubai Government has admitted it believes not enough people are using its online services. Salem Khamis Al Shair, e-Services Director at Dubai Government, told IT Weekly he blames the problem on a combination of a lack of public awareness and public mistrust in conducting financial transactions online.

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By  Diana Milne Published  January 1, 2006

Dubai Government has admitted it believes not enough people are using its online services. Salem Khamis Al Shair, e-Services Director at Dubai Government, told IT Weekly he blames the problem on a combination of a lack of public awareness and public mistrust in conducting financial transactions online. The government has a deadline of 2007 for putting 90% of all government services online and for ensuring that 50% of all transactions carried out by the public are done online. Al Shair said the number of transactions carried out online currently stands at around 20% and that 84% of government services are available online. There are 1.9 million internet users registered with Etisalat — the UAE’s incumbent provider. “The response has been very good bearing in mind the services that we have and the type of PR and marketing we have done which were very minimal,” said Al Shair. “However we still need to increase the number of people using the electronic services,” he added. “There are not as many users as we would like there to be,” he went on to add. Al Shair also admitted that a lack of technical knowledge among the staff accounted for some of the problems in terms of the quality of the services. “Sometimes people are on tighter budgets than others,” he revealed. “Or you don’t find the right people sometimes with the government salary scheme — especially as we are running a complex operation,” he added. The government will now carry out an evaluation exercise to reassess the quality of the services and how many people are using them. There are a number of Dubai e-government success stories in terms of user numbers. Its e-service for applying for medical certificates has proven to be the most popular of the 350-plus services and has clocked up over 307,000 applications out of a total of 1,357,066 transactions for all government services since it was launched in October 2001, as reported in AME Info. Similarly the 90% of applications for Certificates of Origin from the Chamber of Commerce take place online. Other successful services, according to Al Shair, have been applications for health hygiene certificates for food and payments of traffic fines online. But lack of public awareness is stopping users from taking advantage of online services. In addition, members of the public have been reluctant to make payments online using credit cards, Al Shair said. This is set to change in January however with the introduction of a direct debit method of payment. “It’s a cultural change — a paradigm shift. People have to get into the habit of getting on the net and doing their transaction,” he said. “By the end of January people will be able to do direct debit payments. This should encourage them to transact online,” he continued. “People can use credit cards and the E-dirham card but people are reluctant to use credit cards. People don’t trust it really,” he admitted. To aid its evaluation of e-government services the government has developed a database, which will be regularly updated with statistics from each department showing how many people are using the services. The government has recently completed a pilot evaluation exercise of selected services. “To reach the two objectives we will also have a quality evaluation of each service and test and see what stage it’s at. We will look at if it’s good enough for the public to use. If it is not, it will be taken off- line,” Al shair said. Meanwhile, the UAE has been named as one of the world’s top countries in terms of e-government readiness in a United Nations Report. It states that the UAE has posted one of the most “impressive year-over-year gains” among all the countries of the wo rld after moving from a ranking of 60 in 2004 to 42 in 2005. The UN’s e-Government Readiness Report defines e-government readiness as the extent to which the country is ready and equipped to use the opportunities offered by ICT to access basic social services. The report says: “It is perhaps especially noteworthy because, in addition to being rebranded, it is one of the few government sites in the Middle East that offers an open ended discussion forum.” The report describes the sites as “excellent portals” — the e-Dirham portal for making payments and the e-Forms portal for filling in forms.

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