UN E-Government Survey in Media

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E-Government Survey in Media

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As scholars conducting research on e-participation, with quite extensive experience in government administration, we were intrigued by Muhammad Fajar’s article in this newspaper on Aug. 4. In the article titled “e-Participation and democracy” he cited lapor.go.id and the latest program laporpresiden.org, to argue that e-government initiatives may lead to demobilization of people in the democratic process. Yet the ability of e-participation to mobilize or demobilize citizens can be very subjective, mostly attributable due to the following three main reasons.

First, e-government, in general, is not meant to be a direct support for democratic practices. E-government is just one method to achieve better governance. While democracy is only one of the final outcomes expected, it is not always necessarily the case. Therefore, judging the success level of e-Government practices by using the measurement of democracy can be misleading. Furthermore, e-participation cannot be viewed as representative of the whole e-government system. In fact, it is just a part of e-government, using the electronic version of ordinary participation practice that is mainly supported by the Internet. 

For instance, Singapore is well known for excellent e-government practices. According to a UN e-government survey in 2014, Singapore is the world’s third best country in e-government. 

However, Singapore is also known as a country that limits freedom of speech, political participation and press freedom. According to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Singapore’s Press Freedom Index ranks 153rd, lower than Indonesia at 138th. 

Furthermore, according to the Freedom House 2015, Singapore is worse than Indonesia in terms of freedom rating as well as political rights. This contradiction perhaps indicates that e-government and democracy are just two different concepts that apparently may work parallel to and independently of each other.

Second, e-participation is not the substitute of offline or any other participation channels, such as face-to-face meetings. As described by the UN Public Administration Network (UNPAN), e-participation is complementary to existing channels. Similar to offline participation, e-participation may not always lead to democratic government or people’s empowerment. 

Third, e-participation can be illustrated as a vehicle. It offers speed and convenience. But it’s up to the government how to drive it. So, the appearance of Indonesian e-participation channels such as lapor.go.id and laporpresiden.org should not be expected to be a tool to fix all problems. Instead, the services offer alternatives for a government to listen to its citizens and options for citizens to speak their minds.

This is also to say that the final decision is also often in the hands of politicians and governments in offline participation channels. For instance, in formulating national or local budgets, citizens are involved in a participation channel, called Regional Development Planning Forums (Musrenbang). Yet the final budget allocation is decided by the government and politicians in the legislative bodies. 

The basic question remains, do we need a participation channel? It may be too premature to say that we do not. A country without any channels of participation can be counterproductive as it may trigger chaos or dictatorship. Muhammad Fajar may be right to a certain extent that “people should mobilize around issues significant to their lives so that they can press the government if those issues are not addressed”. Nevertheless, the more important thing to consider before that is the definition of what constitutes “significant” to each individual. 

E-participation may indeed “only give rise to a better feeling for the claimants, a feeling that they have participated in democracy”. However, for instance, those whose family members have died due to traffic accidents caused by potholes, or those who perhaps have experienced unfair treatment by civil servants in processing their certificates and licenses, may consider issues like the fight of the National Police and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) insignificant to their lives. They may just want the government to take responsibility for what has happened to them. In this case, e-participation can help to amplify their voices and press the government to be responsible regarding such relatively mundane issues. 

In conclusion, whether e-participation mobilizes or demobilizes citizens can obviously be very subjective. Especially in the Indonesian context people are likely looking for solutions to their daily problems, rather than solutions to “bigger” political issues: the everyday traffic jam ritual, the poor quality of public health and education services, the lack of infrastructure, the misbehavior of civil servants, the inconvenient public transport and many others. 

From the perspective of citizens, the solutions to these “small” issues are sexier. The fact is, in the case of the government’s “LAPOR” channel, many cases have been handled relatively successfully in regards to channeling the concerns of citizens about their personal issues.

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Rido Parulian Panjaitan is a PhD candidate on media and communication and a member of the Digital Media Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia and is researching for his PhD degree in media and communication Chandra Kusuma is researching for his PhD degree on political science at the University of Queensland, Australia. Both are officials of the Finance Ministry. The views expressed are their own.

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Source Date: 8/24/2015

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