The morning of June 24, in Podgorica, the regional Dialogues for the Digital Agenda were opened with the question ‘Can we have quality e-services without digital identity?’. The event took place in a hybrid format, with a physical presence in Hotel Podgorica and via the Internet, gathering over 6o interested stakeholders.
The event kicked off with a panel discussion on digital identity moderated by Snezana Nikcevic – NGO 35 mm (Montenegro) who noted that exchanging experiences among the countries of the Western Balkans in the area of e-services and how digital identity can be used to improve, introduce new, better services is one of the main reasons that this is a very important chance for all of those present to get insights on how they can further use good practices from the region. Several panelists from the Western Balkans joined the discussion, namely, Vangjush Stavro – Director of the General Directorate of Civil Status at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Albania), Habit Hajredini – Office for Good Governance at the Prime Minister’s Office (Kosovo), Marija Suzic – Institute for Development and Innovation (Serbia), Aleksandra Dzankic – Directorate for Personal Documents and Residence at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Montenegro), and Mila Josifovska Danilovska – Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia).
‘’One of the biggest challenges that we are facing at the moment is the low level of information about the use of electronic ID’’ said Mrs. Aleksandra Džankić from the Directorate for Personal Documents and Residence within the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Montenegro. She emphasized the benefits of eID that apart from having electronic identification also has qualified electronic signature, and explained that once the citizens activate these digital certificates placed within the eID, they can access certain e-services faster. She also added that even without the activation of the above-mentioned certificates, the eID can still be used for the same purposes as the ID of previous generation.
Mr. Vangjus Stavro, Director of the General Directorate of Civil Status within the Ministry of internal affairs from Albania explained that their Government decided to go fully online stating that ‘’e-Albania, which is our government portal started around 2015, in 2017 we started producing first electronically or digitally sealed certificates, because we also provide an electronic seal to the document that confirms that this is a document from the government entity, and since 2022 our Government decided that from the 1st of May everything will go online.’’ He also added that ‘’Despite having all these services, we didn’t just develop these services and said ‘’ok, lets publish these services let’s get everyone online, and things will work.” No. We also have an Agency that’s doing the monitoring behind it so we have like a loop system that provides feedback.’’ Mr. Stavro highlighted the importance of the citizens getting feedback, and government having the monitoring system in order to have a fully functional e-government portal and e-services that actually work.
When it comes to the main challenges from the perspective of the civic sector, Mrs. Marija Suzić from the Institute for Innovation and Development from Serbia said that the trust between the citizens and the government is the most important thing. “I think that citizens are really sceptical about e-services because they do not completely trust in the government because they are not familiar with what their governments will do with citizen’s data when they collect it, do they forward it to some third party, or something like that. So I think that it is very important that the public sector goes public – to explain to the citizens what are they doing with the data, how are they being used, who is using them, etc.’’
The following panel was dedicated to the presentation of the Digital Agenda Observatory – Country Report and Roadmap for Digital Agenda Advancement in Montenegro (2022). The panelists who discussed on the key issues, challenges and recommendations that emerged from the report prepared by NGO 35 mm were Jasmina Mulic, Associate researcher – DeFacto Consultancy, Lepa Zunic – Executive director at Parents.me, Mirsad Hadzalic – Executive Director at Super Hub , and Nevenka Kapicic – Programme coordinator at the Roma youth organization Walk with us – Phiren Amenca.
Some of the main recommendations that emerged from the National Report for 2022 are largely based on previous research and include consistent work on strengthening the capacity of civil servants, and ensuring better and better internet penetration, especially among households with lower incomes.
Also, what is recognized as an important segment, and it concerns the legislative framework, is that “emphasis should be placed on the application of already existing laws, the adoption of by-laws, informing citizens about the possibilities that legal solutions give them in terms of easier and more efficient communication with state authorities ”.
It was emphasized that despite the created legislative framework, the practical application of what the law enables is significantly slower. According to the report’s conclusions, the use of digital signatures is at a low level, due to the lack of knowledge of the regulations, a lack of understanding of its utility value, and the complexity of eID activation, and that it is necessary to consider the accessibility of eID activation for all citizens of Montenegro. It was said that it is important that all relevant decision-makers work to increase the awareness of citizens, but also to increase the number of those services that can be completely completed electronically, with intensive information campaigns that will encourage the level of use of these electronic services.
When it comes to the importance of civil society organizations, the attendees agreed that citizens must have support when using services and that the role of the civil sector in the sphere of digital transformation is primarily to mediate the communication between institutions and citizens. The panelists also agreed that one of their most important tasks is to work directly with their target groups, but also that there are is large number of challenges they face both at the level of resources and capacity, as well as at the level of citizens’ motivation and the level of digital literacy, which is, according to the conclusion of those present, at an insufficiently high level.
The need to change awareness and change habits that do not imply decades-long routine and going to the counter is one of the biggest challenges faced by civil society organizations and citizens as well as institutions and civil servants. Digital transformation first of all implies social change, which means that we all need to work together, the panelists concluded.
Тhe project Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA is co-funded by the European Union and implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), e-Governance Academy (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change Serbia (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo).