Government to go online?

  • 2000-10-26
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - The world as we know it today might not be around for much longer. The ever so intriguing World Wide Web is weaving people together in more and more complex ways. Now Microsoft is offering governments help in putting their services online for people to vote, fill in applications and take part in government decisions. E-government is here.

"Just like businesses are embracing the digital age, so should governments," Michel Lacombe, chairman for Microsoft Europe, said. "I think the public sector has great opportunities on the web."

Lacombe said citizens should be able to access government services online.

"We are talking about long-term strategies to build tools to replace poor physical interaction," Lacombe said. "Like going to an office and standing in line waiting for hours. Our tools can eliminate these interactions and free more time for more important physical interactions."

On a brief visit to Latvia Oct. 20, Lacombe met with Latvian President Vaira-Vike Freiberga to tell her about e-government and how much better it would be if the Latvian government went online.

Aiva Rozenberga, Freiberga's spokeswoman, said the president thinks the step toward e-government is an important step for Latvia.

"Microsoft will have to run in a competition for running this project," Rozenberga said. "I wasn't in their meeting so I can't really say anymore about this."

The Microsoft chairman said the world is moving in the e-government direction, and the return on the Latvian government's investment will be obvious - more effective organization delivering services faster and cheaper to its citizens.

"The United Kingdom's government started investing in e-government a long time ago," Lacombe said. "By 2005, all U.K. government services will be provided digitally."

Bo Kruse, managing director for Microsoft Baltics, said he doesn't think there is a choice for the Latvian government.

"Latvia will need to embrace the digital age," Kruse said. "Still, the government will need to take the leap otherwise this will not happen."

Maris Gulbis, head of a state working group that solves questions connected to electronic documents, thinks members of government and Parliament in Latvia need to learn how to think like the young when it comes to computers and the Internet.

Lacombe said computer penetration will need to increase in Latvia, and people will have to be educated in using them.

"In the long run, the world will be digital," Lacombe said. "It will take time but it will improve in Latvia."

Arvo Ott, head of the state information systems department in the Estonian Ministry of Transport and Communications, said that in 2003 most of the Estonian government's services will be available over the Internet.

"Many countries have the e-government vision, and I think it will be possible in Estonia in three years," Ott said. "It will be cheaper and faster with information for the people."

Kruse said Microsoft is currently working together with all three Baltic governments.

"We are offering this service to Latvia first because we believe that Latvia has developed furthest in organizing," Kruse said.

Microsoft, as a leading software company, has experience in e-government projects from before but the company is not set to take over the world, Lacombe said, even though he admitted Microsoft wants to establish a two-way information between governments and Microsoft.

"We are not here to tell the government what it should do, but we are offering our experience from what we have seen happening across the world," Lacombe said.