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Samia Melhem - Sr. Operations Officer, Policy Division (CITPO), The World Bank Group

In an exclusive interview to Vikas Kanungo, Ms. Melhem shares her views on the impact of mobile/wireless technologies on the future of electronic public services to the emerging knowledge society

m-Govworld : Please describe the role of your department in The World Bank

Samia Melhem : I work for the Global Information and Communication Technology Department at the World Bank (GICT). The unit is a joint World Bank and International Finance Corporation department. Working with both the public and private sectors, GICT serves as the World Bank Group’s core department for research, policy, investments and other programs related to ICTs in developing countries. GICT provides governments, private companies, and community organizations with the expertise and capital needed to develop and apply ICTs to reduce poverty and foster development. Through extending the use of ICTs, the World Bank Group aims to stimulate sustainable economic growth, increase productivity, improve public services, promote transparency and good governance, enhance social inclusion, and ultimately reduce poverty.I am part of the Policy group within GICT and my role is to advise client governments in egovernment and provide policy makers with technical assistance and capacity building in implementing egovernment projects.

m-Govworld :  How do you see the role of mobile / wireless technologies in delivering electronic public services?

Samia Melhem : Mobile and wireless technologies have an incredible potential to create a new vehicle for citizens to interact with government. The technologies are improving in speed reliability and security and it’s a question of time to have a critical mass of government services available to mobile users. The biggest driver is the government itself, who has to have first of all a strategy and an objective to provide online transparent services and information to citizens and to make use of available networks – of which of course the mobile network.

m-GovWorld : What, according to you, are challenges in adopting mobile devices for delivery of e-Government services?

Samia Melhem : It used to be that the critical mass of users was a problem. This is no longer an issue with more than two billion cell phone users world wide and the good practice of sharing a phone which allows the poorer people to still have access to telephony whenever necessary. The biggest challenge is the government’s will to provide electronic services and to work with the mobile operators operating in the country to have the mobile operators be the vehicles to transport the services/transaction. The government can gain a lot from such initiatives: In terms of revenue generation the government can have revenue sharing agreements with operators based on the revenues operators make, out of an on-line government transaction over operator’s network. The government’s registries will become more reliable by using the operator’s reliable technology and databases, to register citizens with mobile phones.
Another challenge is to create and maintain online government services (both informational and transactional) that are in local languages, culturally-sensitive and context-rich (ie: displaying local information based on caller’s location, which can be traced back to phone number, etc.), and make these easy to use to sometimes illiterate users.

m-Govworld : Are there any initiatives within your organizations to use mobile devices for coordination?

Samia Melhem : We have been looking at disaster management and mobile phones. Broadcasting weather information and local news through mobile phones is the best and most efficient way to convey information extremely rapidly, sometimes this information can save lives as was demonstrated by use of cellular phones just before the 2004 Tsunami hit  South Asia.

m-Govworld : How do you see mobile devices affecting the citizen government interactions in future?

Samia Melhem : The mobile devices are a great vehicle for government to hear back from citizens, educate them on their rights, history, and the current state of the country; or to get paid faster (m-banking) as well as also reach out to citizens (during campaign seasons, etc.)

m-GovWorld : What in your opinion is the reason for slow adoption of mobile government initiatives in developing countries?

Samia Melhem : Reasons are: Lack of available services, lack of available backend infrastructure, limited use of local language and lack of good information display mechanisms.

m-GovWorld : Can mobile / wireless technologies help bridging the digital divide?

Samia Melhem :Definitely for all the reasons and potential mentioned above.

m-Govword : What role should the telecom players play to accelerate the mobile government initiatives?

Samia Melhem : 
Be proactive and demonstrate to government what mobile technology can do,


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