Does E-Government Guarantee Accountability in Public Sector? Experiences in Italy and Japan

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

As the cases of public sector reform and e-government projects have shown, e-government can play a role in public sector reform. The article describes Italian and Japanese e-government policy and its status, focusing on the issues raised by the government and by the public. Both countries have implemented series of political and administrative reforms in order to improve accountability. NPM reforms utilize various strategies to manage public policies, and e-government is a public policy that directly affects other policies and leads to radical and structural changes. Its characteristics as public policy are different from those of other policies, especially in relation to public accountability.

INTRODUCTION

Why do we reform government? The answer to this question varies relative to the context and timing. Sometimes reform is stimulated by a shortage of financial resources. Sometimes it is brought on by a change in political power. At other times it may be forced by citizen demand. And, at times it results as a response to corruption and scandal. Moreover, in many cases, more than one of these aspects work together to push forward government reform. This is also why reformers adopt various strategies ranging from institutional reorganization, rationalization of administrative procedures, introduction of new managerial techniques, and more recently, implementation of e-government.

Recent examples of public management reform in different countries and regions demonstrate that the background and contexts of reform have many things in common. For example, member countries of European Union have been implementing public reform policies that include restructuring of government institutions and public organizations, modernization of budgeting process, rationalization of financial policy and its implementation, change of human resource management, renewal of public management and public service delivery, review of public/private partnership, and use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to improve managerial process as well as communication better with the citizens. NPM (New Public Management) has become one of the most important conceptual bases for these reforms. Along with NPM comes increased demand and need for accountability and transparency, elements highly requested in European ICT integration. This process can be seen in various public administration reforms of the EU member states.

In this article, the characteristics of e-government were first examined as a tool for public sector reform. E-government policy has unique characteristics different from other public policies. It is, first, overall policy, covering different economic sectors. It deals with the policy making process and the organization and management of government in general. E-government is, secondly, often a policy aimed to overcome "government failure". The "government failures" are considered as problems to be solved through e-government policy, which introduces private sector management tools and/or methods and tries to use these experiences and techniques to overcome the problems typical in public sector. Another important aspect to be stressed is that e-government policy is the only public policy that guarantees its legitimacy with best practices.

The article describes Italian and Japanese e-government policy and its status, focusing on the issues raised by the government and by the public. Chronological reconstruction and analysis of major policies regarding public sector reform and e-government in these two countries are provided in order to compare the cases. Both countries have similar characteristics in their political and administrative systems, and had experienced similar political and administrative reform in the last decade. Political instability with frequent changes of governments, no significant changes in political power structure with one party dominance over years, and diffusion of corruption and interest politics, have been common characteristics of political system in both countries. …

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