Dubai e-Government boss admits lack of trust over online services

The Dubai Government has admitted that not enough people are using its online services — in the same week that a United Nations report named the UAE as one of the world’s top countries in terms of e-government readiness.

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By  Diana Milne Published  January 1, 2006

The Dubai Government has admitted that not enough people are using its online services — in the same week that a United Nations report named the UAE as one of the world’s top countries in terms of e-government readiness. Salem Khamis Al Shair, e-Services Director at Dubai Government blamed the problem on a combination of lack of public awareness and a lack of public trust in conducting financial transactions online. “Sometimes people are on tighter budgets than others. Or you don’t find the right people sometimes with the government salary scheme — especially as we are running a complex operation," he said, adding: “There are not as many users as we would like there to be.” Al Shair went on to concede that a lack of public awareness is stopping users from taking advantage of online services. “It’s a cultural change — a paradigm shift," he said. “People have to get into the habit of getting on the net and doing their transaction. By the end of January, people will be able to do direct debit payments. This should encourage them to transact online. People can use credit cards and the e-dirham card but people are reluctant to use credit cards. People don’t trust it really.” The Dubai government has set a deadline of 2007 for putting 90% of all government services online and ensuring that 50% of all transactions carried out by the public take place online. However, Al Shair said the number of transactions carried out online currently stands at just 20% — even though 84% of government services are available on the web. Overall, in the UAE in 2005, there were a total of 1.3 million internet users — 34.7% of the total population. Ironically, Al Shair’s admission comes just as a United Nations report claimed that the UAE has posted one of the most “impressive year-over-year gains” among all the countries of the world after moving from a ranking of 60 in 2004 to 42 in 2005. The UN’s e-Government Readiness Report, which was published by the United Nations Online Public Network and Finance (UNPAN) group, defines e-government readiness as the extent to which the country is ready and equipped to use the opportunities offered by information and communications technology (ICT) to access basic social services. The Dubai Government will now be carrying 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 1.38 million transactions for all government services since it was launched in October 2001, according to a report on financial website 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. To aid its evaluation of e-government services, the government has developed a web-based database, which will be regularly updated with statistics from each department showing how many people are using the services. The government says it will also assess the quality of each service and the extent to which they are user friendly and “e-enabled”. It will be enlisting the help of academics from local universities and 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.

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