‘Cyber democracy’ revolutionises rural town
3 June 2005
MADRID — A small rural town in southern Spain has claimed it has invented ‘cyber-democracy’ — using new technology to involve citizens in municipal life.
With just barely 2,700 inhabitants, Jun, an agricultural town Andalusia, declared using the internet a fundamental right in 1999.
Mayor Jose Antonio Rodriguez told EFE: “That was the first step, but many more were needed” over the next few years to get more than 87 percent of the townspeople to use new technologies on a regular basis to interact with the municipal institutions.
Rodriguez said making the use of the internet and mobile telephone messages to carry out bureaucratic activities popular has been possible thanks to courses in “digital literacy” provided by the authorities.
More than 80 percent of the townspeople have already participated in the education programme.
The goal is to make it possible for people who barely know how to read and write to easily use a mobile phone or computer, he said.
To carry out its ambitious policy, the town set up a website on which its citizens — from the comfort of their own homes — can participate in municipal meetings, vote on city matters or make suggestions.
Thanks to its cyber-democracy efforts, which are serving as an example for other European cities, Jun has become the town with the largest number of electronic signatures in the world.
Using electronic signatures allows people to securely take care of their business online.
Also, all the town’s citizens possess an electronic identity document that includes a coded chip with which they can do everything from participate in municipal consultations online to request drug prescriptions at the local health centre.
Jun was also the first community in the world in which a paperless election campaign was conducted solely by means of digital technology, an initiative called ‘electoral.net’.
The public funds saved by conducting the election in this way allowed the city government to finance a social programme in Asia.
The new technology was also used in the recent nationwide referendum to ratify the European Constitution.
More than 70 percent of Jun’s voters preferred to vote electronically in the referendum, while in the rest of the country, the percentage of ‘cyber-voters’ did not exceed 1 percent.
Another municipal programme called “policia.net” lets citizens become community “watchdogs” who can report to the city authorities any suspicious incident or problem that occurs in town.
“Using these technologies makes city management much easier,” Rodriguez explained.
The initiative started thanks to signed agreements between the city government and various companies, including the Spanish telephone giant Telefonica.
The latest municipal initiative has been to promote “smart” houses in which a small seismic movement triggers a device that automatically opens all the doors to make getting out of the house easier in an earthquake, for instance. The mechanism also shuts off all the gas and electricity to avoid explosions.
The important thing, Rodriguez said, is to fight against the “technophobia” that prevails in many sectors of society and employ new technologies “sensibly” to make life easier for everyone.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Subject: Spanish news