Saudi Arabia has entered the elite club of 21 nations possessing all the essential components of e-readiness that enable a nation to offer an effective e-government and empower it further to render all types of e-services for public and private sectors. “The presence of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain appearing in the top 21 rank is a feat,” read a new UN e-government survey released in Riyadh yesterday.
The UN e-government readiness survey, which makes a comparative assessment of global e-government development in 193 countries and includes indicators, strategies and best practices, said that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states had emerged as leaders of the world in e-readiness. “This feat is attributed to their surge in digital literacy and online presence,” read the survey, which also measures transparency of governments based on their online activity status.
The Kingdom has invested heavily and taken adequate measures to boost the e-government program on the one hand and promote e-literacy among students and general public on the other. The Ministry of Telecommunications and IT established the e-Government Program in 2005 in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance and the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC).
A few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia won two prestigious UN awards in the area of communications and IT, and a third for its extraordinary achievement in rendering government e-services. The Internet, which was launched in the country in 1998, has witnessed a large increase in broadband subscriptions and online activity. About 60 percent of the Saudi population is online today, with a sharp increase in e-literacy reported by the country year after year.
Referring to the major points taken into account, the UN survey said the e-government initiatives generally include the adoption of ICT within its public sector and the attempt to hit a more efficient, inclusive, sustainable and transparent mark.
However, “having a foot in the digital door is not enough, for the countries that hit the high ranks of this poll are ones that took their initiative to another level and subsequently moved further than the basic integration of systems and links”, the report explained.
The UN survey further said that offering a single point of contact to the public represents one of the major keys to progress within the e-readiness realm, and that is where the “GCC states have excelled.”
Governments within the Gulf do still receive a lot of criticism for their lack of transparency in specific areas, but are said to be pedaling faster down the track, it added.
The survey said that the use of social media may not represent one of the e-readiness pillars, but it cannot be ignored as a major factor in governmental transparency. Interestingly, the use of social media is quite common in the GCC, and the growth in terms of use of social media in the Gulf is higher than any region of the world. To this end, the survey noted that Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, had recently hit a social landmark with over 1 million followers on Twitter.
“Considering that the population of Dubai is not much more than double that figure, it is an impressive feat,” read the survey. The ruler uses his social media accounts not only to communicate with the public, but also to receive instant feedback. Although the UN 2012 survey shows that no country has a single sign on integrated portal, some GCC states are among the 10 closest to such a feat, said Jamil Ezzo, director general of the International Computer Driving License (ICDL) GCC Foundation.
Digital literacy is one of the key indicators used by the UN report to measure a country’s progress in e-readiness, it said, highlighting that over 150,000 people from the Gulf had enrolled on its programs, a marked improvement over the preceding two-year period.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) publishes the UN e-Government Readiness Survey every two years. The survey is a flagship product of UNDESA, representing the only global publication that lists a comparative assessment of global e-government development in 193 countries, including indicators, strategies, tools and best practices. The survey taps into the collective wisdom of the global strategists and practitioners in how they leverage e-government to better serve the public.

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