Wednesday, February 27, 2008

E-GOVERNMENTS


The times are changing for some aspects of our day-to-day activities that touch upon dealing with the bureaucratic machinery called the government. Some governments are making their services available online for various reasons that I can think of including:

1) improving the speed of processing

2) improving security for the government

3) expanding their services beyond the normal Monday to Friday business hours

4) to be more cost effective.

Last week's issue of 'The Economist' compares between the user's experiences of applying for a visa in the Indian consulate versus the American consulate in England. The American counterpart sounded vastly more sophisticated and efficient compared to the Indian government.

Here is a brief comparison of the visa application process between India and USA.


India
The whole process from beginning to end requires the applicant to be in the Indian Consulate.

Applicants lined up at 3 a.m. to get a good spot in the queue for the visa office that opens at 8:30 a.m.

The requirements are:

1) The applicant must be physically present through the entire process

2) A $60.00 fee (cash only)

3) A visa form filled out by hand and authenticated with a signature and picture (hard copy only.)

4) The visa document is authenticated.

The process is expected to complete by noon; however, the on busy days the applicant may need to pick up the visa the next day.

Options
1) Applying by post (which could take weeks.)

2) Cash only payment accepted


Considerations:

Person applying does not have:

1) To pay electronically by credit or debit card. The person doesn’t have to rely on a banking institution as long as they have the cash available.

2) Have to have access to internet.


India is facing tremendous growth in their IT sector and other businesses (steel manufacturing)

Though faced with constant threat of terrorist activities from other neighboring countries (Pakistan, Sri Lanka) their process to apply for a visa does not seem to have any underlying motives for collecting information.

On the road from being a third world country to a manufacturing giant, it is the largest and most populous democracy in the world.

USA
The process begins with the applicant applying online.

The whole process is a blend of online internet processing and manual meaning the applicant goes to the American Consulate to complete the process.

The requirements are:

1) Submit the application online plus paying electronically a non-refundable fee of $131.00

2) The applicant receives a confirmation e-mail which includes a barcode. The barcode serves as an identifier.

3) The printed e-mail serves as a ticket to allow the applicant to enter the consulate office to complete the application process

4) Upon arrival at the consulate the barcode is scanned, the applicant is photographed and fingerprinted (digitally recorded)

5) The visa document is produced in a secure bank-note style paper

Options
None. It is not possible to apply by post. Payment is by electronic funds

Considerations:
Person applying must have the means to:

1) Pay electronically by credit or debit card

2) Have access to internet
A person’s identity is liable to identify theft via the internet.

The US government is collaborating with private businesses to gather and have access to peoples’ private information, and this process supports and enforces an individual to divulge private information online that is stored in a database and easily retrievable.

Speculation on this practice is that the US government’s enacting the USA Patriot Act where one of the provisions (Section 215) “allows the FBI to make an application for an order from the Foreign Service Intelligence Court for an order requiring production of ‘any tangible thing’ for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.”

There are deep implications in the changes the way governments operate. Perhaps it is not a fair comparison, because the vast differences in historical development of both countries. A consideration is the ideology of elected officials.

Mahatma Gandhi's words are displayed in public offices throughout India:

"Who is a customer? The customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business, he is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so."

Are the peoples of other countries considered a valued customer by their governments? Government is big business, and it can be made profitable by those we vote into power. Are the efficiencies in government used to benefit the masses or the few?


-Analyn Revilla

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