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FOSS in E-Governance and E-Government - Perspectives on MDGs

By Fouad Bajwa
Created Mar 1 2007 - 13:17

As an active FOSS [0] Advocate carrying out activities that facilitate governments around the world adopt and use FOSS for their sustainable social and economic human development, I would like to discuss how FOSS enables a model for E-Participation as a means to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals with respect to E-Governance and E-Government by Governments and Public Administrations worldwide. In order to express my point of view in relation to other contributions of great significance, relevent information references and sources have been provided at the end of this publication.

Introduction

The Millennium Declaration passed in September 2000 presented the fundamental values essential in the 21st century including inter alia Freedom, Equality and Solidarity that were the underlying basis for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs [0]). The MDGs were endorsed by 189 Heads of State and Governments worldwide with their commitment being reaffirmed at the World Summit WSIS in 2005.  The WSIS first phase was carried out in Geneva 2003 from 10-12 December 2003 where a declaration of Principles and Plan of Action was passed with the target of achieving "Right for all to access INFORMATION and KNOWLEDGE". The Second phase of WSIS was in Tunis 2005 from 15-16 November 2005 and the progress was made for the formulation of FOSS with respect to the MDGs thus work has been in progress for creation of a Policy Framework.

The MGDs are 8 goals that have 18 specific targets including:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieve universal primary education
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women 
  4. Reduce child mortality 
  5. Improve maternal health 
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases 
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability 
  8. Develop a global partnership for development

The requirements anticipated for achieving afore mentioned MDGs are:

  1. Access to information
  2. Good governance
  3. Focus on poverty reduction
  4. Benefits of ICTs for all
  5. Adequate funding, including through more generous ODA 
  6. Multi-stakeholder partnerships

In order to review the status of MDGs, the following documents are available:

  1. 2005 World Summit http://www.un.org/summit2005/ [1]
  2. Millennium Development Goals Report 2005 http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/pdf/MDG%20Book.pdf [2]
  3. Millennium Project http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/ [3]
  4. The Millennium Development Goals: Civil society takes action http://www.undpingoconference.org/ [4]
  5. Health and Millennium Development Goals http://www.who.int/mdg/publications/MDG_Report_08_2005.pdf [5]

Currently many countries are falling behind including the poorest and in Africa mostly. The issue remains that how can governments and organizations achieve the MDGs practically through ICTs. One suggestion is that countries should develop e-strategies that have a pro-poor focus and include this in the core of their Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers PRSPs so that they can address the digital divide and knowledge access issues.

Digital Divide, Access to Knowledge still not possible?

According to reports from 2000, nearly 325 million children out of school, 183 million of them girls at both primary and secondary levels. Then there are 854 million illiterate adults out of which 543 million of them women. Another issue aggravating the situation is that there are some 6,000 languages spoken through out the world (UNESCO) and 3,000 languages are spoken by fewer than 10,000 people and over 90% of content on the Internet in only 12 languages.

The ideological and pragmatic support of FOSS to the Millennium Declaration:

The UNDP Human Development Report 2001 states that: "Today's technological transformations hinge on each country's ability to unleash the creativity of its people, enabling them to understand and master technology, to Innovate and Adapt technology to their own needs and opportunities" thus FOSS enables a paradigm shift that breaks with business as usual.

The state of FOSS adoption by Public Administrations:

According to the 2004 UN Global E-Government Survey of National Web Server Hosting Technology, 178 countries were evaluated. 84 countries or 47% of governments worldwide were using Linux/FreeBSD/FOSS whereas only 64 Countries or 36% of governments were using Windows (98/NT/2000/2003), Solaris was used by 23 governments or 13% and other platforms or not platforms constituted 7 countries or 4%. 13 countries had no websites at all.

"An Overview of E-Participation Models" (UNPAN 2006)

 FOSS that Use of Open Source Software: To make the transition to e-government and e-participation generally acceptable globally, investments have to be made to indigenize the local content matter, so as to incorporate linguistic, culture and social considerations, as well as to gain the public trust. One of the means to do so relatively quickly and easily is the open source software or free software, also known as FLOSS or FOSS.

The basic idea behind open source is very simple: FOSS programs are programs whose licenses give users the freedom to run the program for any purpose, to study and modify the program, and to redistribute copies of either the original or modified program (without having to pay royalties to previous developers. It can be used copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction, which is highly significant for developing countries because it represents a viable alternative to the traditional licensing model that can help to free up public funds.

"Affordability aside, the adoption of FOSS also presents opportunities for industry and capacity development, software piracy reduction, and localization and customization for diverse cultural and development needs"

Global Studies on the use of FOSS in Public Administration:

The FLOSSPOLS Survey http://www.flosspols.org [6] presented how the local government authorities in 13 EU Member States were using FOSS. 49% use FOSS intentionally, 29% use FOSS (GNU/Linux, MySQL or Apache) without knowing, 70% of users plan to increase FOSS usage, 38% of non-users plan to adopt FOSS.

Immediate Benefits to realize:

There are numerous cases worldwide where various cities and local authorities are opting for FOSS over proprietary and pirated software as a means to contribute to cultivate grass-root citizens' access to information and knowledge. FOSS provides the opportunity to achieve the MDGs. Governments & Public Administrations in all UN member countries should endorse and cultivate the enforcement of two major policy principles enabling ICT [6] Software Freedoms:

  1. All citizens have an equal right to access public information made available in electronic format; and
  2. No citizen should be obliged to acquire a "particular software" to exercise such a right.

All Countries should adopt measures that promote Open standards as a basic requirement from all vendors, the Data encoding must guarantee permanence of records, official Procurement policies and practices should avoid vendor lock-in. Donors and funding agencies should provide access to funds for FOSS programmes and development worldwide.

Online Reference Documents:

  1. UNU-MERIT policy brief: Open Source and Open Standards:
    A New Frontier for Economic Development? is a United Nations University Policy Brief that examines the economic benefits of open source and open standards and outlines some issues that public organizations should consider in developing policy guidelines in this area. http://www.merit.unu.edu/publications/pb/unu_pb_2006_01.pdf [7]
  2. "An Overview of E-Participation Models".
    Nahleen Ahmed, Division for Public Administration, and Development Management (DPADM), Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). April 2006. http://unpan1.un.org/intradoc/groups/public/documents/UN/UNPAN023622.pdf [8]
  3. General Assembly 59th Session Document Clauses 18-19 on FOSS.
    http://www.unsystem.org/JIU/data/en/work_prog/Prog_work2004en.pdf
    [9]
  4. Policies of United Nations System Organizations towards the Use of Open Source Software (OSS) In the Secretariats by Louis-Dominique Ouédraogo, Joint Inspection Unit, Geneva 2005. This report in the framework of using information and communication technologies (ICT) for development, to contribute in raising awareness on the potential role of open source software (OSS) for the achievement of specific objectives set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Plan of Action adopted in 2003 by the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). http://www.unsystem.org/jiu/data/reports/2005/en2005_3.pdf [10]
  5. Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) and the Millennium Development Goals (Mdgs): Roles of Cities and Local Authorities. Louis-Dominique Ouédraogo.
    http://www.it4all-bilbao.org/ponentes/Louis_Dominique_Ouedraogo.pdf [11]
  6. UNDP-APDIP-International Open Source Network – IOSN FOSS E-Primers:
    http://www.iosn.net [12]
  7. Telecenter Handbook (UNDP Europe & CIS). Chapter Section: Telecottage Software Pages 44-48. A practical guide to establishing a telecottage as well as a valuable source of experiences and lessons learned, this report was prepared by members of the telecottage movement. The Hungarian experience is used as a reference point throughout the report's different themes and discussions. This publication is intended for ICT professionals, community development practitioners and public administrators who wish to improve social services delivery at a local level, and who recognize that telecottages can be used in service of individual, local and community poverty reduction. Issued by/Author: UNDP Europe and the CIS, Published: June 2006.
    http://europeandcis.undp.org/?menu=p_cms/show&content_id=1EADFC88-F203-1EE9-B04E2BCA1E266BB8 [13]
  8. UNESCO: Since the launch of its free and open-source software portal in 2001, UNESCO has also been both a practical and ideological leader in supporting the Free Open-source Software (FOSS) development model. The development philosophy of FOSS 174 EX/33 – page 9 encourages solidarity, collaboration and voluntary community work among programmers, librarians, scientists, researchers and computer users. The portal gives access to local and remote documents as well as to websites which are hosting the most popular and useful FOSS software packages in UNESCO’s fields of competence, notably the public sector, higher education and research environment (www.unesco.org/webworld/portal_freesoft [14]); http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0014/001437/143713e.pdf [15]
  9. The FLOSSPOLS Survey
    http://www.flosspols.org [16]

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