COVID-19 has challenged the governments of the world, which are in a special situation. While the state bodies have to minimize physical contact, the realization of social distance and isolation measures require more work by them. The e-government  tools developed in the last decades allow the governments to somehow balance the dilemma between the quarantine regime and the effective governance. Since the previous decades, many governments of the world have developed extensive online systems of e-government for making the state services available for citizens, which have become important platforms for sharing awareness and organizing anti-epidemic measures. Some governments realized the necessity of consistent e-government, such as the Greek one, which has created a united online platform of state services right after the outbreak of the pandemic. In order to overcome the pandemic challenges effectively the already launched e-tools have been supplemented by governments with new toolkits for monitoring and managing the pandemic situation.
Studying these processes in different countries will give us an opportunity to understand the advantages of e-government and its role in these critical situations. As interesting examples of e-government in times of pandemic we have studied the experiences of Taiwan and Estonia. In the separate section we will introduce the e-government situation in Armenia, which has progressed a lot in this sphere in the last decades.
E-government: latest trends
Since the 2000s, along with the development of information technologies, governments have actively used the information and communication technologies to raise the effectiveness of the management. “The e-Government survey” of the UN in 2018 has shown that the dominant majority of the UN countries include some toolkit of e-government in their government system. As for 2018, the majority of governments provide the following services online: utilities payments (140 countries), tax payments (139 countries) and registration of new businesses (126 countries). More popular services are: payment of fines, application for a birth or marriage certificate, registration of cars, application for driving license and identification card.
Due to this intensive investment of e-government and the development of digital communities more and more citizens of various countries use online services. So, for example, more than 89% of the tax payers in the USA paid their taxes online in 2019, in Estonia 98% (2019), in Great Britain 93.5% (2018), in Japan 68% (2018), in France 78% (2018) and in Canada 90% (2020) of the citizens having high income and so on. Like Estonia, many countries have created online voting platforms. In the European Parliament elections 46.7% of Estonians voted online in 2019. In the USA, like in many countries, the majority of citizens make utility payments online (56% as for 2017).
The governments, along with the already existing e-government tools, have been developing new digital toolkits in order to fight against the virus. As for 2020, April 8, 86% of the world’s governments spread information about the virus in their e-platforms.
Another way of information spread and virus control is creating applications. The most common ones are contact tracing apps and those controlling the movements of isolated citizens. Cell phones having contact tracing apps record the contact of people when meeting each other. Later, if one of the contacters gets infected, he/she enters his/her infection information in the app, and the person communicated with him gets an alarm message that he/she has had contact with the infected. More than 29 countries use such apps as for April 16. EU countries have come to an agreement to exchange information between their national apps. This means that citizens of the EU when moving from one country to another won’t have to download that country’s app, as the applications of all countries can exchange information with each other. In many countries the control of the infected people who are isolated at home is done by monitoring the geographical location of their phones. If an infected person leaves his/her flat, the phone sends a signal to the relevant monitoring authorities. Among the most common apps are the ones that provide information about the infected regions, which help people to avoid visiting such places.
This prevalence of e-government equips citizens and governments with necessary tools, which allows mitigate the spread of the pandemic by reducing social contacts. There is not enough statistical data about the usage of e-government tools by citizens during the pandemic , but in the last years the growing involvement of citizens allows us to argue that pre-pandemic tendencies at least preserved during the pandemic . In the recent years, the digitization of state services by combined governments along with the usage of new e-tools in times of pandemic significantly help the governments to perform their services during the pandemic period.
E-government in times of pandemic. Estonia and Taiwan
Estonia and Taiwan are interesting examples of the fight against coronavirus. Both countries have developed effective e-government systems during years, which, along with the new tools, serve to fight the virus.
99% of the state services in Estonia are available online, which ensures the uninterrupted operation of the state during the pandemic. After the outbreak of the pandemic the government has moved to a so-called virtual office to continue their work online. The created online tools for doing businesses give an opportunity to do business without interruption. Since April, like other countries Estonia has also developed the COVID-19 detecting application with the cooperation of the private sector. Due to the analyses of the ID data the app shows whether or not your contact person had contacts with an infected person in the last 14 days. Before the crisis, 87% of schools were using e-solutions, which helped to fully pass into remote education without obstacles. Due to the digital health references and online prescriptions the visits to the hospitals have been minimized and the employees can get sick leave after online consultations with doctors.
Taiwan is perhaps the most successful example of fighting coronavirus in the whole world. They started to fight against the virus on the 31st of December of the last year, right after the day when the news of the virus in Uhan spread. The success of Taiwan against the virus is described in the media as a “Taiwanese model”. This model, certainly, is not free from technical solutions, which seems to be natural for a country having such a level of technical development. One of these solutions is the so-called “digital fence” implemented by the National Communication Commission, this is when the movements of the isolated citizens are controlled by their cell phone signals. If the isolated person leaves the house with the phone, the signal system turns on informing the relevant authorities about the violation of the isolation regime. To avoid the panic of mask consumption the Island’s Digital Ministry along with the private sector has developed a mask supply control app which in real time shows the number of masks in outlets. Except for it, the citizens can use the app to donate extra masks to others.
These and many other measures are part of Taiwan’s e-government development strategy which dates back to the 90’s. Since then, many interesting projects for the development of e-government have been implemented in the country. For instance, one of these projects was “Door to Door” e-service initiative, the aim of which was to provide government e-services for as many people as possible. This initiative of Taiwanese government allows the citizens to contact relevant agencies of the government and to ask them to send a civil servant to get necessary state services. The civil servant arrives with a computer connected to the e-portal of the government. In this way, the whole package of e-services becomes available for the citizen, so, in this case, the civil servant provides services not only on behalf of the particular agency but the whole government. The so-called e-housekeeper portal was created, which sends notifications to the citizens about more than 200 state services, such as about payment of taxes and fines, car maintenance deadlines, the roads closed by the government and so on.
E-government in Taiwan has gained great achievements not only in the citizen-state relationship, but also within the government, that is to say within different departments of the government. The exchange of documents between the Taiwanese state agencies is mainly done online saving a lot of time and millions of dollars. This and many other projects in the field of e-government certainly have their role in the fight against coronavirus through minimizing/reducing contact between people.
E-government in the Republic of Armenia
The development of e-government in Armenia dates back to the 2000’s. Since then, Armenia has appeared in the list of countries having a high level of e-government as a result of a number of projects. The majority of projects were realized with the EU’s financial and professional support. In Armenia, the central platform of e-government is the https://www.e-gov.am/ website, which was created in 2010 with EU support. It is a united platform for RA government agencies providing e-services. Here, the citizens of Armenia can send letters to the government, make state payments, make real estate deals, register organizations, take part in e-auctions of the Judicial Acts Compulsory Enforcement Service, apply for e-visa ( by the way, Armenia is the world’s first country to have online system of e-visa application) and so on. The website is in fact a platform for posting e-services of various departments, which in their turn are available in different windows (websites).
The experience of Estonia was very important in the development of e-government in Armenia. A number of projects were realized based on the very example of Estonia. Such projects are: communication between citizens and the government via e-mail, getting documents from the State Population Register, the e-services for the Police for registration of the transport and driver’s license, -court register and so on.
In 2007, the Mulberry system of document management was introduced in the State Departments of Armenia. It gives an opportunity to exchange online documents between different agencies. Now, it is used by more than 65 state institutes and more than 1 million documents are circulated annually. As a result, 70% of circulation of documents among the state institutes of Armenia is done online.
After the outbreak of the pandemic, the anti-epidemic measures of the RA government were not without the usage of e-tools. the website of the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention of the Ministry of Health has become the main platform, where the information about the coronavirus spread, registered cases and the pandemic measures is reported. There is a section named “COVID-19” in the official website of the RA government, which informs people about current travel restrictions, commandant’s decisions and instructions. There is a separate section for informing about economic and social support projects. The e-health consistent informative system of ARMED in Armenia has created a map of virus spread which is updated constantly. It shows the addresses of self-isolated citizens with an accuracy of 50 m.
Since the pandemic a growth in the use of e-government platforms among the Armenian citizens has been noticed. So, if in January of this year 900 applications were sent by Armenians with the help of the unified e-platform of the government, then, in March, this number reached to more than 5000 continuing to grow in the next months. In April, the number of requests, complaints and applications was 44000. Reasonably, it was a result of anti-pandemic social and other measures realized by the government the majority of the applications were directed to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and to the RA Police.
So, in the last decades, the development of e-government in the world and the online availability of state services in the pre-pandemic period gave an opportunity to restrict physical contact while using state services, which is an important factor in preventing the spread of pandemic . Now, the majority of the countries provide at least a few online services. In many countries, the citizens use a number of state services mainly online, such as the income tax declaration. During the pandemic the governments have also used new e-tools. The most widespread ones are the physical contact tracing apps, those monitoring the movement of citizens in self-isolation and the apps of the geographical spread of the virus. The experiences of Taiwan and Estonia show how important the role of developed e-government is in critical conditions. In Armenia, e-government is also included in the general management system, which, as the analyses show, had and has a growing role in the government’s anti-epidemic measures since the outbreak.
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Author: Gevorg Gasparyan © All rights reserved.
Translator: Liana Sargsyan