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In a Newsweek article from the August 23&30, 2010 issue, (cover story: The Best Country In The World Is…) Mac Margolis writes in an article regarding “e-government” about Estonia’s trailblazing dominance in this area.

He explains that if Franz Kafka had grown up in modern Tallinn instead of 19th century Prague, the world might find itself bereft of a number of modern literary classics, due to the lack of “the implacable gatekeeper”–type characters (who stymie and torture any number of Kafka’s self-referential main characters) in his experience. …A basic lack of confounding bureaucratic inefficiency and paperwork (especially).

Margolis (employing reporting from four other journalists, including one in Tallinn) explains the ease-of-use and wide-ranging benefits of Estonian “e-gov”, where, via use of an electronic ID card, (which most, if not all, Estonians now own) one can –quite literally– stick the card into a reader and within moments, sign a contract with an international corporate partner, pay a traffic ticket, file one’s taxes, and even vote in national elections. All of this without having to file reams of paperwork in triplicate with various departments and sub-departments of the government.

He of course points out that such a system raises many concerns regarding privacy and security (individual and otherwise) and that one of the most important elements for such a system to work is that governments must be willing to unlock information and make it accessible to ordinary citizens at large (something most governments are, as yet, hesitant to do – or, at least, have been so in the past).

The article also talks about the “Bhoomi” program in India (which has given access to and simplified recordkeeping for crucial official property title documents. These are used by a majority of farmers and peasants as both collateral for bank loans as well as a personal identity document, in many areas of India. These documents are now much more difficult to fake or forge and in a country where 7 out of 10 court cases deal with property line & border demarcation conflicts, the electronic storage & management of these documents has been a huge boon.) The Brazilian e-gov system is being used to monitor, control and simplify tax payment in that country.

The article closes with a humorous quote from the managing director of the Estonian ICT Demo Center, Indrek Vimberg: “Our goal is to make Estonia so paper-free that the only place where you would need to use it will be in the toilet”.

The article explains that many nations are looking to Estonia for leadership in the area of “e-government” and its implementation and that Estonia has trained bureaucrats from at least 36 countries at its “e-Governance Academy” (including representatives from: Sri Lanka, Senegal, Pakistan, Namibia & Tajikistan, among others).

By the way, Estonia ranks 32nd  (out of 100) in Newsweek’s current (debut) list of “Best Countries in The World”; behind the US (at #11) and our neighbors Finland (at #1), Sweden (at #3), Norway (at #6), Denmark (at #10) and the Netherlands (at #8), but ahead of both Latvia (at #36) and Lithuania (at #34) and 66 other nations.

Tenno Andra


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