The Future is E-Government

Maybe governments employ computers to process and record transactions and store data but by a large measure, the mindset is still 19th century. At best, their current practices are still in the mid 20th century mode. What will it take to bring it in line with Best Practice?

 Pictures: All of them are photographs of Port Elizabeth 100 years ago. The main picture was taken outside the Edward Hotel in Belmont Terrace

Centralised Master Data

In terms of this philosophy, all types of Master Data are recorded only once in a central repository and never duplicated. To a large extent, private enterprise has adopted this methodology but this practice is still prevalent especially in smaller companies.

An example of this phenomenon as experienced recently in the McCleland household is as follows. As my wife is largely bed-ridden and uses oxygen, I rent an oxygen concentrator and a spare gas cylinder from a medical supply company. As it is cheaper to purchase the gas cylinders rather than to rent in perpetuity, we purchased two from the same company. As the rental and the sales divisions operate on separate computer systems, a new Credit Application Form had to be completed for the purchase and a different Customer Code was provided.

Post Office, Town Hall & Market Square

Post Office, Town Hall & Market Square

Before one smiles smugly, consider what happens when dealing with government. As every department operates separate systems that requires its citizens to complete the government equivalent of an Application Form whenever one interacts with another department.


Every time that one’s address is changed, one has to amend it for various departments. Consider the Voters Role as one example. Every time that one moves, it has to be changed.

Imagine that the centralised master data role was devolved to the Department of Home Affairs. Instead of only recording one’s names, date of birth and ID Number, it would now include information such as official residential address, records of marriages and divorces, educational qualifications and perhaps even criminal records. Ultimately, one’s DNA profile would also be stored on this database.

Method of interacting with citizens

I refuse to receive mailed copies of accounts and other correspondence with commercial companies. It is all received via email. On the other hand, communication with government is still largely based on snail mail. In fact, apart from a number of magazines to which I subscribe, the only mail that I receive in my post box is adverts and official mail.

A day on Humewood Beach in one's jacket & tie

A day on Humewood Beach in one’s jacket & tie

The whole method of serving notices and summonses is currently antiquated and cumbersome, with snail mail and sheriffs being part of the chain. The shenanigans involved in people attempting to avoid being served a summons for a traffic fine might be the subject of great hilarity around the braai, but the rest of the denizens of the country have to bear that cost.


In fact, after having watched several episodes of the British true life series Interceptor about the British police in operation, the standard method of identification of the driver of the vehicle is by meaning of their fingerprints. Apparently, the British criminal is just as loath as their South African counterpart to provide their correct personal information to law enforcement officials!

I recall an incident several years ago when a work college was involved in a fracas with two strangers. On the perpetrators’ arrest, their personal details were recorded and then they were released. The police ultimately had to drop the case because all the details – name, address and cellphone numbers – were fictitious.


Feathermarket Hall

Feathermarket Hall

What should be used is a system of Electronic Post Boxes based on the commonly used Drop Box principle except that the Department of Home Affairs will create an EPB gratis for every citizen. This system will sms the owner of the EPB whenever a new advice is placed in it. The citizen will have two methods of reading their mail, either on their own computer or Smartphone or failing that, at the offices of the Department. In a country like South Africa where much of the population does not have access to a computer, this aspect will be crucial for the system’s viability.

Identification on this system should be biometric and not by means of a passwords.

View of North Jetty from North End

View of North Jetty from North End

Onus on updating master data

The onus should be on the citizen to update their master data. In addition, every citizen should be required to confirm electronically that this master data is up to date on the anniversary of their birth.


If this future sounds far-fetched, try living in Sweden today


Leave a Comment.