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Economy

Citizenship in the digital era

Electronic government grows in the country, but study identifies needs

GUILHERME LEPCAUntil the 1970’s, four public services were offered to Brazilians with the help of new technology, represented, at that time, by the telephone. These services comprised three-digit emergency numbers: 190, Military Police; 192, Emergency Medical Care; 195, water leaks or water shortage; and 199, the Civil Defense. In the last fifteen years, however, information technology has been increasingly implemented in the public sector. Nowadays, Brazil is a pioneer in terms of the so-called electronic government, or e-Gov, system. The major advances in this respect include the filing of 98% of the Income Tax returns through the internet and the electronic voting ballot.

Although Brazil is a reference in terms of innovation related to elections and tax collection, the country still needs to implement information technology in various sectors of government. Many of the local governments are behind in this respect. This evaluation was made by Florencia Ferrer, who has a doctorate degree in economic sociology from the University of São Paulo (USP). Dr. Ferrer coordinated the Center for Studies on and Development of Electronic Government (Ned-Gov), the Foundation for Administrative Development (Fundap), with the support of FAPESP. Nowadays, Dr. Ferrer runs e-Estratégia Pública a think tank that focuses on this issue. The sociologist has developed methodologies to measure the savings and the efficiency provided to governments by this new technology, such as that in the State of Paulo. The project was funded by FAPESP’s Bolsa Jovem Pesquisador program.

Government procurement is one of the fields which needs to advance the most in terms of using electronic means, says the sociologist. If all the purchases of the federal, state, and local governments were made electronically, Brazil would save R$ 23 billion a year, according to her calculations. “There is no doubt that the reduction of costs and of red tape made possible by the e-Gov makes this system even more necessary for emerging economies,” she says.

Electronic government helps reduce prices of government purchases because it allows competition to grow and leads to better integration with the supply chain. “Companies from all over the country, regardless of their size, can compete to provide the government with services and products on an equal basis; the government is the biggest consumer of products and services,” says the sociologist, who focuses on this issue in books such as Gestão pública eficiente – Impactos econômicos de governos inovadores (published by Editora Campus) and e-Government – O governo eletrônico no Brasil (published by Editora Saraiva).

The automation of public administration can contribute to the elimination of deficiencies that favor corruption, according to the researcher. The estimate is that if the gaps through which several thousands of reais a day are robbed from public coffers were eliminated, the resulting savings would correspond to 10% of the taxes collected by the Tax Authorities per year. “Electronic government should be viewed as a synonym of democracy and transparency,” she adds.

In Brazil, the so-called public information technology began in the 1970’s. The first levels of government to avail themselves of information technology to a great extent were the federal government and the governments of the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Paraná, Santa Catarina, Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia, Ceará and Pernambuco. From the 1990’s onwards, the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Administration (1995-2002), on a national scale, and the Mario Covas (1995-2001), Geraldo Alckmin (2001-2006) and Aécio Neves (2003-2010) State Administrations in their respective states were among the administrations that implemented an e-Gov agenda as a priority, as explained by Florencia Ferrer. “The pioneering experiences were related to the citizens’ obligations to the State,” the researcher explains.

With tax collection, the changes took place more than ten years ago. Brazil was one of the first countries in the world to allow Income Tax returns to be filed via the internet. When it became mandatory for citizens that were not enrolled in the Individual Taxpayers List (CPF) to file income tax – even though this part of the population was considered as being ‘digitally excluded,’ nearly 70% of these tax-exempt citizens filed their returns through the web. This became the preferred tax filing mode because it was free. Filing income tax returns through the mail or at lottery houses have a cost. The payment of taxes on vehicles was one of the first processes to migrate to electronic means. “We have noticed a major change in terms of the citizen’s relationship with the government, as the e-Gov makes it easier to conduct tasks that have to pass through bureaucratic structures in various departments,” says the sociologist.

The delivery of services and the bureaucratic tasks that citizens have to carry out are areas in which new technologies are still rarely used, says the researcher. On the local government level, it is also rare to find state-of-the-art technology. “Most of the local governments have not made investments or implemented policies in this sense.” However, she adds, governments are beginning to increasingly understand that access to the internet and entry into the digital world should be part of public policies. As examples in this respect within the scope of the federal government, the researcher mentions the National Broadband Policy (PNBL) and within the scope of the state government, she refers to the recent case of the state of Acre, which offers free internet access in most of the state’s capital city.

Studies conducted by Florencia Ferrer’s team were based on her own methodologies which evaluated the savings obtained by the State of São Paulo from the use of electronic means. The Bolsa Eletrônica de Compras (BEC) system, implemented in 2000, for example, led to a 25% drop in prices and a 51% drop in the cost of the procurement process. For suppliers, the cost of participating in state government bids dropped by 93%. In absolute terms, annual savings come to approximately R$ 94 million.

GUILHERME LEPCAThe electronic version of the Tax on Automotive Vehicles Ownership (IPVA) has led the State to save R$ 20 per process – the price dropped from R$ 22 to R$ 2 per process. For the population, this drop was even more significant; prior to the modernization of the system, car owners had to pay R$ 68,00 for a dispatcher to provide the license for the vehicle or the owner of the vehicle had to go personally to the Department of Traffic, which meant that expenses totaled R$ 56,00 on average. This work is no longer necessary, because the payment can be settled through the internet. The only cost, of R$ 10,00, refers to the need to mail the document to the taxpayer’s address. This change has allowed the state government to save R$ 715 million in absolute terms. At the same, time, collection of this tax has gone up by 300%.

The adoption of electronic means has also led to significant savings in relation to the issuance of documents such as the identity card and the certificate of criminal records. The average weighted total cost for all the analyzed bureaucratic processes came to R$ 47,08 for the traditional process at Civil Police stations and to R$ 34 at the Poupatempo centers, corresponding to savings of 29%. and a decrease of R$ 50 million a year in these costs. The issuance of a police report (BO) can be made through the internet. The savings in this respect are very significant, when compared to the former method, which entailed a trip to the nearest police station to file a complaint. For the population, the reduction came to 88%; for the State, 67%. “Governments, as service providers, should adopt new technologies and use them intensely and irreversibly, in the manner of the private sector and the banks, which have been doing so for a long time,” says the researcher.

Florencia Ferrer points out that, in order to restructure government services “reduce expenses (production costs) and increase capital funding (savings) – the government should combine electronic government with the adoption of a new kind of management. -Technology facilitates, speeds up and improves processes, but does not establish them,” she emphasizes. In other words, electronic government is a means of modernizing the public sector, but this depends basically on a management change.

Electronic government should be inserted into a broader reform of the State, which should contemplate the analysis and reorganization of the processes, the management structure, the regulatory framework, the relationship between agents, the functions of the State itself and the relationship of the State with civil society.” The methodologies developed to calculate the savings and the efficiency provided by the new technologies include the Binps (Benefits over Public Investments). This index verifies and quantifies – in terms of savings – a cost reduction for the government as a consequence of the innovation. Another index, called Measurement of Public Benefits, compares the costs of traditional and innovative management processes. The index e-Licitações measures the increase in government procurement efficiency, as prices are negotiated through tenders conducted by means of innovated processes. The objective is to show the advances that these procedures make in the form of executing public expenditures. The Adherence to the Electronic Government (IA e-gov) index was created to go beyond subjective measurements and perception research studies on the phenomenon of corruption. It shows the degree of efficiency that results from the use of electronic means in any process inherent to public management, and the deviation of the maximum maturity level of the e-Gov that this process can achieve.

Canada is the global leader of e-Government services and digital inclusion. Other countries have made significant efforts in this respect: Singapore, for example, was at the top of the international ranking of the sector, as a result of successfully executing five national information technology plans. To come out of the crisis provoked by the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Finland moved from being a raw material exporter to an exporter of technology and became a model of the knowledge economy. Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to adopt a national e-Development plan, with the support of the World Bank. “These countries took great advantage of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in their social-economic development strategies,” says Peter Titcomb Knight, Ph.D. in Economics from the USA’s Stanford University, who coordinated the e-Brasil project and organized e-Development in Brazil and in the world (volume published by Yendis/ Brazilian e-Commerce Chamber).

If previously Brazil was the leader of e-Government in Latin America, Brazil has now lost its number one position to Chile. After the end of the military government, the first democratic administration, of Patrício Aylwin (1990-1994), concentrated initially on political, institutional, and constitutional re-organization. The modernization of public management began during the administration of Eduardo Frei (1994-2000), as explained by Patricio Gutiérrez, coordinator of e-Gov at the General Secretary’s Office of the Presidency in Chile. E-Government was implemented during the Ricardo Lagos Administration (2000-2006). The Chilean government began to systematically include initiatives to narrow the digital gap. These initiatives include the management of community access centers, such as info centers, telecenters, public libraries, etc. Other innovations are focused on contents and services offered on the web. “In the last 10 years, the use of new technologies in public administration has led to extraordinary changes in Chile,” says the specialist in one of the chapters of the book e-Desenvolvimento no Brasil e no mundo.

According to Florencia Ferrer, the significant costs – or at least some of them – resulting from the implementation of software and the construction of the technological infra structure can be transferred to the private sector. For example, the state government of Arizona, in the United States, created a car licensing system on the internet. The site was designed and is maintained by IBM, which gets 2% of the value of each actual transaction. The on-line process costs only US$ 1.60 – the previous licensing process cost US$ 6.60. As a result, the State is able to save money. “The providing of government services can contribute to the efficiency of the business sector and improve costs by means of information technology and the simplification of bureaucratic procedures.”

The project
E-government in Brazil (nº 03/10454-7); Modality Programa Jovem Pesquisador program; Coordinator Maria Florencia Ferrer – Fundap/USP; Investment R$ 130.036,80

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