On January 17, the Department of Public Works and Services (PWS) of Ras Al Khaimah released a new smartphone app which aims to help citizens reserve services from the government agency. The app is part of a broader eGovernment initiative in the Gulf Coast Country which dates to 2004.
According to the manager of the Commercial Affairs Section for the PWS, Mohammed Mahmoud, the new app ‘will significantly ease and expedite official transactions, save time, money and effort, and bring happiness to the customers.’ Mr. Mahmoud also told the Khaleej Times that the app will help the department to conduct its business in a more efficient manner.
eGovernment has been defined by the eGovernment for Development project as ‘the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to improve the activities of public sector organizations.’ While some point out that this covers earlier technologies the push towards Government-as-a-Service has gained steam in the last 10 years with the rise of smartphones and technologies.
The leaders of the UAE have taken the opportunity to implement eGovernment initiatives seriously. In fact, the 2016 UN eGovernment Survey ranked the country has the fifth most development eGovernment framework in Asia - second for eGovernment services.
One reason for the success of these initiatives is that developments in eGovernment services are not restricted to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Instead, the Federal Council has sought to include all the emirates in the program. In the case of Ras Al Khaimah, this includes its Emir, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, who has promoted initiatives to improve the delivery of basic services for all.
Besides the newly launched PWS app, other examples of eGovernment services in the tiny emirate include the e-Dirham system. This program allows citizens to pay taxes and other government service fees online and was first launched in 2015. Since then, every department in the Ras Al Khaimah government has integrated with the payment scheme.
Another example of the eGovernment initiative in the emirate is the Electronic Government Authority (EGA). This agency is tasked with leading the conversion to eGovernment and not only ties together other agencies within the emirate but also coordinates with the federal government in Abu Dhabi.
The EGA has implemented many initiatives including online customs payments, utility payments, filing, and tracking of suggestions and complaints online, payment of traffic fines, and many other services. The agency was launched in 2004 by the Emir with a goal of converting Ras Al Khaimah society to an online community.
This even included opening a training center in 2009 to increase the awareness of government officials to the digital tools being implemented by the agency. To date, the EGA has improved hundreds of processes within the emirate’s government and while adoption of eGovernment services by some older generations has been slow, the clear majority of respondents are satisfied with overall direction of the initiatives.
Other features of eGovernment initiatives in the UAE include one-stop shops, chat features and even text-to-speech features of the government’s website to help the visually impaired. By doing so, the normally conservative UAE has become one of the leaders in eGovernment services in the entire world.
Focusing on Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate is one of the sleepier corners of the UAE with a population of slightly over 200,000. Located less than two hours’ drive from Dubai International Airport, the emirate is located at the northeast corner of the country and borders the Persian Gulf to the north and is the city is the closest port in the country to the Straits of Hormuz.
This highlights the strategic importance of Ras Al Khaimah to the country and the region. As mentioned, the goal of the eGovernment initiative in the UAE is to improve the accessibility and quality of government services. The initiative has been so successful that other governments from around the region have come to visit the UAE to see how their programs work.
Another important aspect of the eGovernment program in the UAE is that the country is a federal system - in that the individual emirates retain a certain level of autonomy on domestic affairs. As such, the eGovernment initiatives in Ras Al Khaimah, like the recently released PWS app, not only need to function as a portal for local government but they also need to be integrated with the federal government as well.