NZ IT Minister Pushes E-Govt Proposals

AUCKLAND (03/17/2000) - New Zealand's Minister of IT, Communications and Commerce Paul Swain is back at work and determinedly pushing his ideas for "information age" changes in governing the country.

This year he plans to:

-- complete the Electronic Transactions Bill, based on a Law Commission report on neutralizing differences between paper and electronic transactions.

-- hold an e-commerce summit to discuss the future of New Zealand business.

-- publish a guide to e-commerce for small and medium companies.

-- develop a strategy to make government agencies more accessible.

-- formalize some informal work he has been doing on "e-government".

Other countries are further ahead, he says, because their governments have been quicker to realize that a hands-off approach is not enough to encourage business online. "They've recognized that if government doesn't take a lead, the development will be patchy. Many developed countries have taken huge steps, and we're getting left behind."

The new coalition government therefore plans to take a leadership role in e-commerce to encourage business, especially smaller businesses, to get involved, he says. That will mean changing its own operations.

"Government is a bit of an old steam engine in that respect," he says, "but we're serious about this and we're going to do it."

Long term, Swain wants all government processes to be available online. Both business and private citizens will have a one-stop portal for all contact with government, whether local or national.

From selling staplers to the Inland Revenue Department to paying rates to Dunedin City Council, the one simple path should make things easy.

Such a change is important for two reasons, he says: to make things simpler for an increasingly Internet aware and demanding public, and to lead the way for New Zealand business, which has been slow to get into e-commerce.

"The bigger companies have made moves, but the majority of small and medium-sized New Zealand companies haven't yet."

Swain's plans will mean huge changes to the way government is run. Every department and agency currently manages its own purchasing policy, from small items to large IT developments. Swain is determined to centralize that using the Industrial Supplies Office Web site.

If all purchasing is done through the one site, he says, every New Zealand company has the opportunity to bid for the business. Several departments are currently using it, but he plans to make it compulsory. A letter was sent to CEOs throughout New Zealand last month, encouraging them to visit the site and look for business opportunities but it won't really work until more departments join in, he says.

A shake-up will be hard but is needed for better government.

There's "an incredible inability to talk to each other" at the moment, he says, "but people don't care which department they deal with so long as the information they get is accurate".

Just looking at e-commerce brings up lots of other areas, says Swain.

"We need to look at the issue of information-rich and information-poor in our society. At privacy, security, tax leakage. Every time you open one of these cupboards and look inside you just want to shut it again!

"But the problems have to be addressed and the market alone can't resolve them.

Yes, the innovation will come from the private sector but the government can then help New Zealand get the best advantage from that."

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