In its white paper on the Vision and Strategy for the Attainment of e-Government published in October 2000, the Office of the Prime Minister outlined its vision and strategy to attain e-Government in Malta. It is made very clear from the outset that such a vision can only be implemented if both the Private and the Public sector contribute to it. Government should act as an enabler, creating the right environment through a proper legislative framework and institutional set-ups. Government will also implement e-commerce solutions in its business- oriented activity. The Private sector on the other hand should be able to support, supply and implement the solutions that would be in demand throughout all sectors of the economy. Government's vision for the creation of a Maltese Information Society and Information Economy is underpinned by a number of principles which are:
All Maltese will have the opportunity and the means to participate in the Information Society and the Information Economy irrespective of their financial, social or educational circumstances;
Government will actively promote the creation of the Information Society and the Information Economy via the provision of transactional on-line e-Government Services;
Government will provide the necessary policy, institutional and regulatory framework that is required for the successful proliferation of electronic commerce;
The achievement of computer literacy by all sectors of the population will be actively pursued;
The necessary measures will be taken to build up a critical mass of Information Technology specialists that will be required to sustain the growth of the Information Society and the Information Economy.
The creation of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta would transform Maltese society in a manner which would result in service improvement, universal access to education, a thriving economy, affordable communications of the highest standards and a country which is among the front-runners in the Global Information Society.
As already argued above the achievement of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta requires the building of the national capacity to sustain this development. This is envisaged to happen through partnerships between the Public and the Private Sector.
Government will build the legal and regulatory framework through a number of Bills:
The Electronic Commerce Bill which provides a secure legal basis for electronic communications, contracts, signatures and transactions, and establishes the framework for Certification Authorities and their regulation;
The Data Protection Bill which will ensure the protection of data, in order to protect the rights of individuals vis-à-vis personal information; and
The Computer Misuse Bill which criminalizes offences relating to the misuse of computers and related equipment.
In building the national capacity Government is faced with a number of other challenges such as the promotion of a widespread uptake of the Internet by businesses and households which is one of the major challenges Government has to face in the creation of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta. Together with this Government has to:
convince the Private Sector to invest in the adoption of e-Commerce solutions;
accelerate and upgrade those initiatives aimed at producing IT specialists in order to fill the shortage of labour supply that the country faces. This is planned to be achieved again through a partnership with the Private sector and by the implementation of strategies for a mixture of IT literacy in schools, life-long learning, vocational training and tertiary education;
explore initiatives set at promoting universal use of the Internet. This could be achieved through three potential initiatives which are the dissemination of e-mail on a national scale, the creation of a Malta Internet Exchange and a National Free Maltese Internet;
develop a high quality and affordable telecommunications infrastructure which could be achieved through the maximization of the current infrastructure and the liberalization of the telecommunications industry, a process that has already started and is at an advanced stage in Malta.
The achievement of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta requires a champion to drive the initiative in a focused and concentrated manner. A number of bodies in Malta have been created in the past with this in mind and the White Paper mentioned above identifies the Information Society and Economy Commission as this driver. This commission has been set up with the following terms or reference:
Identify quantifiable benchmarks for the development of an Information Society and Information Economy in Malta and monitor the achievement of these benchmarks on an annual basis;
Promote the creation and development of an Information Society via the appropriate training initiatives both within and outside the ambit of formal educational structures;
Recommend initiatives and programmes relative to training and human resources in specialized IT-related professions in order to support the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta as well as build an IT industry in Malta;
Develop and implement awareness programmes on its own and in conjunction with Government entities and the Private Sector, that are targeted at all sectors of the community and that will focus on the benefits and opportunities of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta;
Recommend measures to increase access to information and communication technologies at homes, schools, businesses and public offices, including measures aimed at those in the disadvantaged groups;
Recommend measures to Government and working with its institutions for and towards the attainment of the Information Economy;
Establish working groups and task forces to highlight specific sectoral issues with respect to the Information Society and Information Economy and develop and propose recommendations for action;
Work with Government entities and the Private Sector to encourage Information Society and Information Economy initiatives in the delivery of the public services and information;
Monitor trends in IT legislation overseas and recommend legislation that will establish a framework for the attainment of an Information Society and Information Economy in Malta;
Align national objectives in the attainment of the Information Society and Information Economy with those of the European Union, to which Malta aspires to accede in the short-term.
It is envisaged that all e-Government Services will pass through one on-line portal. The portal is seen as the interface that brings together the services offered by Government with its users and will be made up of a-three tier architecture. Access to the Portal should be through multiple channels and service provision through the portal would be characterized, among others, by having access from a wide range of locations, a 24 hours 7 days a week service, seamless one stop-shopping for a range of Government Services from a number of Government Departments and increased efficiency.
Key to the success of the Information Society and Information Economy in Malta is the security by which on-line transactions can be made. The portal would address a number of key features related to security and these are:
Secure authentication and data encryption processes and prevention from unauthorized use;
A multi-step authorization process using private data stored in a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)-protected vault on the e-Government portal to achieve equivalent levels of information entropy to that provided by the private key used for e-signing;
The super-registration of data by clients, on a voluntary basis, into a personal PKI- protected vault on the e-public service portal for data items such as digital photographs, income details, family details, phone contact details, roles in organization etc. Access by government systems to the data in this vault would be totally under client side control. The super registration process would also be used for PKI registration;
Data-protection compliance and multi-step authorization processing, which will be carried out at the e-Government Portal by using the episode knowledge base and data held in the personal vaults;
Electronic signing of HTML forms of XML or XSL files which are transferred to the e-Government Portal;
Electronic signature requirements for all interactions between the e-Government Portal and back-end systems;
Message digests for all client-side interactions that should be archived to deal with any contract or service delivery issues that might arise later on.
The Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) already mentioned above is the technology currently being adopted worldwide for the provision of on-line security and personal authentication. Whereas in other larger countries several certification authorities exist and a need for cross-certification is required, the Maltese scenario is such that a simple scaled down version of Government PKI is used.
The provision of e-services can be conveyed through several routes with direct access from PC over the Internet being the most obvious channel. Yet other factors of social inclusion and public convenience would point to the utilization of alternative channels. The exploration of these other alternative channels is required because of a relatively low level of Internet penetration (penetration rate in Malta is around 10%) together with unsatisfactory and expensive Internet service provision. The alternative channels mentioned above are mobile telephony, value added services through normal telephony, interactive TV, kiosks, over the counter service and call centres. The services provided are also varied and consist of the provision of information, transactional e-services, electronic commerce and e-democracy. Currently a number of services are already available or pilot projects have been launched. Services that are already available are the listing of Government tenders, Government Agencies and officials, national events, employment possibilities, public service information, budget expenditure, laws and regulations and government expenditure. These services are normally provided through the World Wide Web or Email but the level of utilization is either moderate of low. A number of other initiatives are being launched or planned. These are the provision of national statistics, national archives, tax information, payment of bills, application forms, opinion polling and the provision of feedback by the citizen.
The establishment of the Information Society and Information Economy requires a focused effort and requires that the concept is accepted and adopted by the people who will be using it. The White Paper mentions the development of a communications strategy to achieve this goal. Financing of the Information Society and Information Economy is mainly dependent on Government yet other external sources such as the European Union and large international players in the field of IT should be explored.