Poverty and Development Division
Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, 1999
VIII. CONCLUSION: FROM PASSIVE FOLLOWERS TO ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS
CONSIDERATIONS FOR ICT POLICY FORMULATION IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Even when promulgated as distinct policy pronouncements, ICT policies of necessity have to take into account other policy areas, such as education policies, information policies, trade and investment policies, and cultural and linguistic policies. However, the mere establishment of a written national ICT policy has value in itself. At a minimum, it conveys the message that the government is forward-looking and intends to pursue the utilization of ICT in society. Governments should, of course, aspire to more by putting the policy content into actual practice and becoming a role model in applying ICT in their own administration and services.
Common objectives of ICT policies
The ICT evolution will take place with or without a systematic, comprehensive and articulated policy. However, the lack of a coherent policy is likely to contribute to the development (or prolonged existence) of ineffective infrastructure and a waste of resources. Listed below are some aspirations that ICT policies often try to meet:
Common ICT policy elements
National ICT policies usually address all or many of the areas listed below. They may also address specific technology problems, such as the year 2000 problem in computers and embedded systems. Organizational (department- or enterprise-level) policies cover more or less the same areas, but are usually more specific and business-oriented. While international cooperation and exchange of experiences is useful in almost any ICT area, certain policies depend on it. For instance, standardization of telecommunication protocols or setting rules for the administration of Internet domain names cannot be accomplished without international cooperation.
Idealistic and realistic ICT application development compared
If national and global ICT infrastructures were designed today from the beginning, they would look quite different from the ones that actually exist. The reality is, however, that the technologies and applications currently being used have been developed over a long period of time. The gap between an ideal ICT infrastructure and the everyday reality is likely to remain wide for many reasons. A major reason is, of course, the continuous and rapid pace of ICT innovation, which makes today's technology obsolete tomorrow. Another major reason is the lack of experience in managing ICT development at the organizational level in general, and ICT application development in particular. The information in chart 1 compares textbook application development with real-life circumstances.
Chart 1. Comparison of idealistic and realistic ICT application development
Source: Derived from "Tying a Sensible Knot: A Practical Guide to State-Local Information Systems", Center for Technology in Government, State University of New York at Albany, http://www.ctg.albany.edu/resources/pdfrpwp/iis1.pdf (8 February 1999) and the secretariat's experiences in ICT application development.
ICT policies need to recognize the above caveats and offer ways to overcome the constraints. Application development should be based on a sound development methodology, good practices found to work elsewhere, past experiences, realistic objectives and user needs. However, perfect planning is neither feasible nor possible, and eventually the success or failure of a development venture is judged on the realized use of the application.
The objectives and content of ICT policies have similarities and differences in international, national, local and organizational contexts. A comparison of some basic features and linkages between various ICT policy levels is given in chart 2.
Chart 2. Links between organizational, national and international policies
Factors affecting the formulation of national ICT policies in developing countries
The importance of ICT policies is understood at the highest political level in many developing countries, and some countries have already adopted their own policies. Selected references to these policies are listed at the end of this annex. The effectiveness of an ICT policy in one country does not guarantee that the same recipe would work in another and many developing countries face similar constraints that need to be taken into account when ICT policies are formulated.
ICT infrastructure is weak. Information presented elsewhere in this study illustrates that the lack of computer and telecommunications infrastructure is a key problem in many developing countries. National ICT policies therefore need to be very strong in this area. A master infrastructure development plan can be supported by detailed policies for administrative sectors, geographic areas, types of service, types of educational institute, etc. Government involvement remains essential in the construction of the infrastructure in the foreseeable future in rural areas and remote locations. At the present time, only large cities are sufficiently attractive for most private developers, such as mobile phone and Internet service providers.
ICT-related goods and services are made available on suppliers' terms and low per capita purchasing power does not allow markets to mature. While the processing cost per unit calculated or stored has dropped dramatically, the unit price of the average personal computer sold has not fallen very much. The fact that low-cost computers (although technologically feasible) are not available is largely because the development and trade of ICT components are almost entirely supply-driven, taking into account the needs of only the minority of potential users. It would be easier to learn how to use "poor man's PC" than those currently available; the hardware would be relatively simple, and the operating system and software applications would be reliable and small. Such a personal computer would still be able to perform the most common tasks in the workplace, at school and at home.
Basic information technology, such as personal computers, their peripherals and software are available in major cities of developing countries. However, low purchasing power keeps the number of vendors down. Government ICT policies can help the development of ICT markets by reducing red tape, reducing import taxes and creating a favourable entrepreneurial environment.
Telecommunications monopolies still exist. Developing countries in the Asian and Pacific region are mulling over the possibilities for reforming their telecommunications sectors, which are mainly in the hands of government monopolies. A fair degree of liberalization has been achieved in several domestic telecommunications markets, and private Internet service providers have become commonplace. Consequently, more countries are succeeding in eradicating waiting lists for telephone services.
The liberalization of international telecommunications is, however, taking place painstakingly slowly, and retail prices have practically nothing to do with transmission costs. Governments are protecting their rights to collect tax-like revenue through monopolies, and attempts to change the international accounting rate settlement systema (which is an additional reason for the high price of international telephone calls) have not succeeded. National ICT policies cannot afford to ignore the fact that the need for low-cost telecommunications services in developing countries is higher than ever. The policies also need adjustments because the existing market mechanism is being taken over by new modes of operation.b
ICT readiness varies significantly between government departments. Departments and agencies operating in a naturally ICT-intensive field are likely to be more advanced than others. A government can help by identifying a coordinator agency to maintain information about government ICT development ventures. Another way to benefit from the heterogeneity is to develop and test pilot applications in the more advanced departments before these are released for wider use within the government.
Public sector is a significant employer. The computerization of routine functions allows governments to reduce staff and simultaneously to improve the quality of their services. The effectiveness of such moves is often moderated by inflexibilities in employment contracts that limit the scope for staff retrenchments.
Management structures and styles are not conducive. Most failures in ICT application development are caused by poor planning and management, and not by the lack of resources or wrong technology choices. Management of ICT projects is often made more difficult by overly hierarchical organizational structures that are not conducive to innovative ideas. This can create a problem if the management is unaware, or resists becoming aware, of the benefits that could be achieved through the application of ICT. National policies should emphasize the importance of involving senior executives in ICT development and making them accountable for their organization's ICT-related performance.
Governments are struggling to find money for basic public services. Government budgets tend to be tight, especially in developing countries, and this can create problems for rational ICT development and hamper the ability to react quickly to new requirements or to buy the latest technology. In order to get value for money, ICT policies should require that the specifications of systems developed or purchased are reconfirmed by third-party experts before the order is placed.
The penetration and influence of the Internet are still minimal. The Internet is changing the way in which data and information are collected and disseminated and how services are provided to clients. Thus, most new systems should be developed with either immediate or future Internet connectivity in mind.
Governments find it difficult to recruit and retain qualified ICT staff. A key constraint for the effective application of ICT in developing countries is the shortage of human resources.c Apart from a lack of qualified ICT-system personnel, there is often high turnover of such personnel which can seriously hamper systems development or daily operations. In addition, the ICT skills of other related personnel are not very developed. These problems can lead to delayed and uncoordinated ICT development and contribute to inadequate data security. ICT policies need to address human resource development needs in a broad educational context.
Selected ICT policy references in the Asian and Pacific region
Some key ICT policy documents for selected countries are listed below. The list was compiled in January 1999, based on Web searches, and does not represent a full picture of the ESCAP region. Each entry shows the title, the originating institution and the Web site address.
Towards an Australian Strategy for the Information Economy: A Preliminary Statement of the Government's Policy Approach and a Basis for Business and Community Consultation, Ministerial Council for the Information Economy, 29 July 1998
http://www.noie.gov.au/strategy.html (8 February 1999)
Clients first: The Challenge for Government Information Technology, report of the Minister of Finance's Information Technology Review Group, 1 March 1995
http://www.finance.gov.au/pubs/itrg/itrg-tc.html (8 February 1999)
Framework and Strategies for Information Technology in the Commonwealth of Australia, exposure draft, Government Information Services Policy Board, December 1995
http://www.ogit.gov.au/publications/framework/framewrk.html (8 February 1999)
Information Technology in China, overview prepared by the Ministry of Electronics Industry
http://www.ita.doc.gov/industry/omni/prc.htm (15 February 1999)
China IT News, weekly newsletter
http://www.china-research.com/crc_ciw.htm (15 February 1999)
Hong Kong, China
Digital 21: Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Information Technology Strategy, prepared by the-Information Technology and Broadcasting Bureau
http://www.info.gov.hk/itbb/new/digital21.pdf (November 1998)
Development of Information Infrastructure in Hong Kong, Legislative Council Information Policy Panel, 23 January 1997
http://www.ofta.gov.hk/mis/rp97a231.html (15 January 1999)
Information Technology Action Plan, prepared by the National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development, July 1998:
Part I: Software
http://it-taskforce.nic.in/it-taskforce/infplan.htm (9 February 1999)
Part II: Hardware (development, manufacture and export of information technology hardware)
http://it-taskforce.nic.in/it-taskforce/actplan/actplan2.htm (8 February 1999)
Report of the Panel on Development, Manufacture and Export of Information Technology Hardware, September 1998
http://it-taskforce.nic.in/it-taskforce/hardrep/ (9 February 1999)
Basic Background Reports National Task Force on Information Technology and Software Development
http://it-taskforce.nic.in/it-taskforce/bgnew.htm (8 February 1999)
Towards the Age of the Digital Economy, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, May 1997
http://www.miti.go.jp/intro-e/a228101e.html (21 January 1999)
Vision 21 for Info-communications, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications
Flow of Information on the Internet, Report of the Study Group for the Advancement of the Condition for the Use of Telecommunications, Telecommunications Bureau, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, December 1996
http://www.mpt.go.jp/policyreports/english/group/Internet/contents.html (8 February 1999)
For Achieving Globalization of an "Intellectually Creative Society", interim report, Telecommunications Council, Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, 23 January 1995
http://www.jaring.my/ (15 February 1999)
National Information Technology Council, Malaysia
http://www.jaring.my/nitc/index1.html (15 February 1999)
Multimedia Super Corridor
http://www.mdc.com.my/ (15 February 1999)
Malaysia E-Commerce Hub, APEC Electronic Commerce Task Force
http://www.ec.com.my/ (15 February 1999)
Information Technology Advisory Group Communications Framework: Key Objectives, 4 May 1998
http://www.moc.govt.nz/itag/objectives.html (21 January 1999)
The Impact of Information Technology on People with Disabilities, Ministry of Commerce, July 1997
http://www.moc.govt.nz/ran/itpg/disability.html (8 February 1999)
Impact 2001, Information Technology Advisory Group:
How Information Technology will Change New Zealand, 1 March 1996
http://www.moc.govt.nz/itag/impact/impact.html (21 January 1999)
Strategies for Learning with Information Technology in Schools, 4 May 1998
http://www.moc.govt.nz/itag/impact/strategies.html (21 January 1999)
Learning with IT, December 1997
http://www.moc.govt.nz/itag/impact/imped.html (21 January 1999)
Draft IT Policy of Pakistan, Ministry of Information and Communication
http://itcomm.gov.pk/it_policy.html (9 February 1999)
Better Pakistan 2010
http://www.pak2010.gov.pk/page_1.htm (15 February 1999)
IT Action Agenda for the 21st Century, National Information Technology Council, Manila, October 1997
http://www.neda.gov.ph/IT21/IT21txt.htm (15 January 1999)
National Information Technology Plan 2000 (NITP2000): Executive Summary
http://www.dlsu.edu.ph/pinas/st/nitp.html (9 February 1999)
Republic of Korea
Korea's Vision for the Information Society, Ministry of Information and Communication
http://sp05a.etri.re.kr:8080/e_home/topics/1217-01.html (15 January 1999)
Information and Communications Policy Statement for the Realization of an Information Society, MIC Official Gazette
http://sp05a.etri.re.kr:8080/e_home/policy_frm.html (15 January 1999)
Information and Communications in the Republic of Korea, 1998 White Paper, Ministry of Information and Communication, May 1998
http://sp05a.etri.re.kr:8080/e_home/white.html (15 January 1999)
IT2000 Masterplan, National Computer Board:
A Vision of an Intelligent Island
Transforming Singapore into an Intelligent Island
National IT Committee
http://www.ncb.gov.sg/ncb/it2000.asp (8 February 1999)
Singapore ONE (One Network for Everyone)
http://www.s-one.gov.sg (8 February 1999)
Electronic Commerce Hotbed
http://www.ech.ncb.gov.sg (8 February 1999)
Social Equity and Prosperity: Thailand IT Policy into the 21st century (IT2000), National Information Technology Committee, 1995
http://www.nitc.go.th/it-2000/full.en.html (8 February 1999)
Thailand: The Big Picture, National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre
http://www.nectec.or.th (15 February 1999)
a For a detailed description of the existing system, see Chairman's report for the Seventh ITU Regulatory Colloquium: Transforming Economic Relationships in International Telecommunications, 3-5 December 1997, Geneva, available at http://www.itu.int/wtpf/trade/reg_coll/7TH/ (8 February 1999).
b New modes of operation include resale; refile, hubbing or re-origination; international alliances of telecommunications operators; the extension of foreign operators' networks into the destination countries to points of presence that they establish there; and Internet telephony.
c See for instance, the report on the Seminar on the Application of Information Technology in National Statistical Offices, (STAT/ITNSO/Rep.), held at Taejon from 15 to 18 December 1998.
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