Hannes Astok, Member of Parliament & former Deputy Mayor, City of Tartu, Estonia
As a special coverage of Global Dialogue on Mobile Government jointly organized by mGovWorld , e-development Thematic Group of The World Bank and partners, the prominent experts from across the world have been interviewed . This interview is posted on the e-development thematic group website , whic is being reproduced here for the benefit of readers.
"Mobile phones are bringing billions of people closer to an information society, fair trade and government services.The low financial entry barrier for mobile phones makes them the first and in the near future the only channel to get various business and governmental services."
Hannes Astok, Member of Parliament , Estonia
Mr. Hannes Astok (43) started his career in Tartu, Estonian 2nd largest city, working for the decade for City of Tartu as Deputy Mayor. His special interest is development of information society. Estonia had made tremendous steps developing information society. Both central government and municipalities offer wide variety of electronic services, including online integrated applications as tax filing and social benefits applications, online application forms, forums and online public transport ticket sales. As mobile phone penetration rates have already reached 95%, various package of public services are available over mobile as well - mobile phone based parking payments, public transport ticket sales, communication between teachers, students and parents, etc.
Mr. Hannes Astok is enthusiastic speaker for information society, specially promoting role of local governments. For the period 2005-2007, Mr Astok was the Director of Municipal and Regional e-Government Program in the Estonian e-Governance Academy (www.ega.ee), providing training and consultancy for Central Asia, Caucasus and South-East European central and local governments. From 2007 Hannes Astok is Member of Estonian Parliament. He is member of the Parliamentary Committee for Economical Affairs, dealing also with information society development issues
Question: According to the ITU, the total number of mobile users worldwide as of late 2006 was about 2.7 billion and the number of internet users was just above 1.1 billion. Does this provide a strong case for leveraging the mobile channel to dramatically improve access to public services to those who can afford to use a personal or shared mobile phone (e.g. as in Village Phone programs)? Does this create an opportunity to connect in the near future the next two billion people to the benefits of e-government, e-health, e-education, e-banking and e-commerce?
HA: Mobile phones are bringing billions of people closer to information society, fair trade and government services. As it is still very expensive to build and maintain fix line networks to remote areas, mobile phone networks already reaching far and remote areas worldwide. Low financial entry barrier for mobile phones makes them first and in near future also the only channel to get different business and governmental services.
Question: How exactly can Mobile Government transform the lives of common people in developing and transition countries? What are best examples of such impact? What are the types of services which can be easily provided on mobile phones/devices ("quick wins") and what the more strategic high-impact services ("killer applications")?
HA: Many African farmers are getting daily price information by SMS. Also banking services via mobile phone are growing rapidly. According to The Economist newspaper report, “pioneering m-banking projects in the Philippines, Kenya and South Africa show the way. These “branchless” schemes typically allow customers to deposit and withdraw cash through a mobile operator's airtime-resale agents, and send money to other people via text messages that can be exchanged for cash by visiting an agent.”
In Europe governments and municipalities are offering wide variety of public services tough mobile phone. In Estonia more than 50% of parking payments are made trough mobile phone payments, teachers can send messages to students and parents, citizens can report by SMS about utility issues, like hole in the street, non-working street lamp, etc.
Airlines are already offering check-in to the flights, hospitals are offering doctor’s appointment registration, it is also in many countries to buy public transportation tickets by mobile phone.
Question: What are the key constraints to making this vision a reality? What are the critical success factors and lessons learned?
HA: The key success factor in cooperation between mobile operators, government, regulators and business entities. There is a lot of existing rules what could hold back development of new services. Another risk is that regulations do not protect customers enough. According to Tim Lyman of the World Bank, „ the existing banking model is both over- and under-protective, because it did not foresee the convergence of telecommunications and financial services.” This also true in many other sectors – education, aviation, health care, etc
Question: Should the government agencies and the development community take this opportunity to drastically improve access to information and services muchmore seriously? How should governments and donors change the way they do business to take full advantage of mobile technologies?
HA: Governments should take this opportunity very seriously. Mobile phones are not just the toys and not only the calling equipment. There are unlimited potential in this field and governments and donors should focus on it. Special programs should be developed to widen access to the mobile phone services, best practices of the regulations should be shared and implemented, secure services should be promoted together with businesses.
Question: What is the role of the private sector? Are there successful business models (e.g. PPP) for private sector companies to support value-added m-government services?
HA: The driving force is mainly business sector – mobile operators, banks, shops, etc. The cooperation is essential as business mainly owns the mobile telecommunication infrastructure. There are a lot of services that governments can learn from business mobile services and implement in the public sector. For example, to make check-in to the air flight is very similar process to confirm doctor’s appointment.
Question: What has been the experience of Estonia in this area?
HA: In the Estonian government, municipalities and private sector companies are working very closely. The best mobile service samples are transferred between private and public sector. Currently we are discussing about the possibilities to use mobile phones in elections, in identification process. This is a good sample how we in Estonia are trying to keep regulations up-to-date with technological possibilities.