Held in the conference premises of the Permanent Representation of the European Commission in Sofia, Bulgaria, on 6th July 2016, the workshop “Re-Designing Public Services for the 21st Century – e-Governance in Bulgaria” was the first of two within the framework of the annual ELF project “Re-Designing Public Services for the 21st Century – e-Governance in Southeast Europe”.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Southeast Europe supported ELF with the organisation of the event, with the aim to facilitate an exchange of knowledge among international E-Governance experts, Bulgarian state officials, business representatives and civil society. Whereas “business has always been inclusive to technologies, Public Administration is still lagging behind the implementation of ICTs,” pointed out Dr. Rainer Adam, Director of FNF East and Southeast Europe, in his opening remarks and highlighted the need for a basic paradigm shift, where citizens are seen not as nuisance, but as clients, customers, and developers of services.
The workshop was split in two discussionary parts, moderated by Ivaylo Tsonev, Project Coordinator at FNF Southeast Europe. Each session began with introductory presentations on the current best practices in the area of E-Governance, outlining the scope of the following debates. First, Aet Rahe, former head of the State Information Systems Department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications of Estonia, shared the Baltic E-experience and the philosophy behind the progressive use of ICTs in virtually every aspect of public action in Estonia. The provision of unique citizen’s personal code, electronic signature platform, secure data exchange layer, the “no legacy” policy, and “once-only data collection” principle were highlighted as fundamental components of the present-day governance model of Estonia. All the security concerns have been overcome by a private ownership of a data model, where the individual, not the state, possesses the entire ownership of the personal data and the authorities should be explicitly entitled to use it.
Apart from facilitating more effective and transparent provision of services within the Public Administration on one hand, and from Public Administration to business and citizens on the other, E-Governance should be perceived as a tool for citizen’s empowerment, according to Filip Dobranic, Co-founder of “Danes Je Nov Dan” Project in Slovenia. Inclusion of technologies now facilitates the immediate and direct involvement of citizens in the decision-making process. A number of web platforms in Slovenia, e.g. “Parlametar” platform which is still in a development phase, allows for supervising the work of public authorities and exemplifies how politicians are becoming more attentive and vulnerable to people’s opinion by the help of the ICTs.
Some countries from Southeast Europe, however, are still lagging behind the Public Services reform. Rumiana Decheva, International Development expert, referred to the inconsistent policies in the area of E-Governance in Bulgaria over the past ten years that have resulted in the development of non-integrated, often incompatible, software systems. Most of the 300 e-services available are unusable and largely unknown to the public. The only efficient services are provided in the areas where the state generates profit, such as vehicle registration and taxation. The major difference between Estonia and Bulgaria, however, lies not in the technologies, but in the leadership, according to Todor Yalamov, Analyst at the Center for the Study of Democracy. “The Government of Estonia, at the beginning, had much more integrity and leadership than the Bulgarian government. The leadership of our government during all these years did not want to redesign public services in a way to favour the citizens, but the state itself,” Yalamov said. Things have, however, changed over the last two years, and the country has achieved much in the area of E-Governance claimed Anton Gerunov, Head of the Cabinet of the Deputy Minister for Administrative Reform of Bulgaria. Following the best practices for E-Governance, a comprehensive legislative framework has been created and the necessary institutional organisation has been installed. “The real boost of E-services” is soon to happen, after the introduction of electronic ID cards, which will make a multitude of services available for general use,” Gerunov claimed, being highly positive about the future of the e-reform in the country.
Through mixing the different realities in the area of E-governance across Europe, major principles and best working practices for fostering successful and meaningful E-Reforms were identified
during this workshop session. Nurturing transparent, effective, and cost-efficient governance is part of a governance paradigm change, which is being advancing to Southeast Europe with the help of the rapid inclusion of ICTs in public life.