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Shih sets high standard for Taiwan's 'e-government'

Shih sets high standard for Taiwan's 'e-government'

Although the Taiwan government has made great progress in terms of the "e-government," officials still need to work harder to improve the electronic environment in government Web sites, as the number of foreign tourists and online service users will increase in the future, said Jay N. Shih, minister of the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission, in an interview with Taiwan News.
According to Shih, the "Sixth Annual Global e-Government Study," an annual analysis of online government services released by Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy in the United States, ranked Taiwan second in the world for e-government, behind South Korea and ahead of Singapore, the U.S., and 194 other nations included in the report.
As the general director of e-government affairs, Shih, a Ph.D. from Pittsburgh University, Pennsylvania, described his views on Taiwan's e-government environment.
"E-government environment can be interpreted as 'E'nglish and 'E'lectronic government Web sites," Shih explained.
"In terms of 'electronic government', Brown University ranked Taiwan's government first in 2004 and 2005, and second last year. But it doesn't mean our government Web sites are perfect in every aspect; there are still a lot of things to be improved," he said.
"One key for getting good marks in Brown University's analysis is having bilingual versions (including an English version) of Web sites, and all our government Web sites happened to have them, so we ranked well," he explained.
Shih said that although our government Web sites are apparently user-friendly for foreigners because they can browse the English version of most of the Web sites, they still might not get all the information they need.
Shih used a metaphor, saying that if the e-government environment is a fruit stall in a fruit market, "we have had many kinds of fruit (Web site content) on the exhibition shelf, and the market supervisors (Brown University) appreciate it. But they don't know our fruits may not be sweet (the depth of the content might be lacking), or that we don't replace our displayed fruit every day (we don't daily or regularly update our sites)," he said.
"I am not saying our Web sites are bad, or that the results from Brown University are useless, but as a general director, it's my responsibility to set a higher standard for my business," Shih said.
When talking about 'English government' Web site, Shih said, officials must be more visionary. The first thing needed is for government officials to agree that their Web sites must be internationalized according to the global trend, meaning an English version must be constructed, he said.
"Only if all government officials take the creation of English versions of their Web sites as their responsibility can the whole construction become more efficient and effective," he continued.
Moreover, intergovernmental coordination between central and local government must be improved. The current situation is the central government has better English version Web sites than local governments. This situation might cause inconveniences for foreigners, Shih said.
"For example, if a foreigner is planning to visit Taiwan, he will firstly browse the tourism entrance Web site organized by the central government's Tourism Bureau. After data mining, he might eventually find something interesting in Yunlin County. But then he might not get enough information from the Yunlin County government Web site, compared to what he got from the Tourism Bureau Web site," he stressed.
Local governments must also provide comprehensive information in English of local news or information for foreigners who live in their counties. For instance, local governments could provide more details online, such as transportation information for a local event, which is not the central government's responsibility, he said.
For the central government, Shih said a unit, or task force, should be built in the cabinet to administer the government's "internationalization affairs" such as creating and maintaining the English versions of government Web sites. "This special unit should have its own personnel and budget, and it would be helpful to marketing Taiwan," Shih said.
Shih said RDEC's newly created program "Citizen's E-housekeeper" is meant to narrow the gap between the government and the citizens.
Once citizens download and install the E-housekeeper software, Shih said, the government will inform users with messages such as warnings of expiration dates on electricity, water, or gas bills, or information on taxation.
Moreover, "citizens will not miss the latest information on upcoming performances, shows, or local events, as they will receive messages informing them about those events from the government," he went on.
According to the report, the Brown University's researchers evaluated government Web sites based on two dozen criteria, including disability access, existence of publications and databases, presence of privacy and security policies, contact information, and the number of online services.
This year's study reviewed 1,782 government Web sites in 198 countries during June and July 2006. A variety of different sites were analyzed, including executive, legislative and judicial offices as well as departments and ministries of the government concerned with health, education, foreign affairs, interior, finance, natural resources, foreign investment, transportation, military, tourism and telecommunications.