“More commitment by all state institutions is needed to exploit the full potential of the e-portal. The COVID-19 crisis has proved the importance of digitalising the public administration and strengthening the provision of online services to citizens and businesses through the e-portal “- was the message in the European Commission report published on 6 October 2020, regarding the use of the national platform “Uslugi (uslugi.gov.mk)”. This platform, which has been operating in North Macedonia since 2019, allows citizens to receive all information about public services in one place in electronic form, but also to request and receive certain documents. The purpose of this portal is to be the only point of communication between the citizens with the administration.
Citizens can find information on this portal in many ways, according to life events, by category, subcategory, alphabet, competent authority, but also by the search tool.
There are data on personal documents, health, transport and environment, education and science, culture, sports, recreation, employment, court instructions, taxes, pension, newborns, marriage/divorce, etc.
However, what can be seen on this portal is that most services are not offered in full they cannot be obtained on the website. The portal only informs citizens where they can find these services.
“The portal instructs you in a more informative way than to offer a way to complete the service electronically. The portal will tell you that you can find this and that there, but in the end, you will have to go alone and beg to get the service you need from one counter to another “- says the university professor, Borce Davitkovski, for “Portalb.mk”.
The same is shown by the analysis conducted by the Center for Change Management. 68 % of the respondents answered that they do not receive full services from the portal, and 32% answered that they receive services in full.
The same analysis also examines the levels of electronic services most often used by citizens and these are evaluated with scores from 0 which is the most negative grade, to 5 which is the most positive grade. However, the grades 5, 4 or 3 were not used for evaluating the services, because the services did not meet the criteria and were evaluated only with grades 0, 1 and 2.
Iskra Belčeva-Ristovska, program coordinator at the Center for Change Management, says that the portal needs to be updated and improved.
“There is room for improvement. After you try to get an electronic service, the portal will redirect you to another website of the competent institution, which is not the purpose of this service portal. On some websites where you will be redirected, you may be asked to re-register, which is also not in line with the required “single sign-in” principle – which reduces the efficiency of the portal. – says Belčeva-Ristovska.
She expects the number of electronic services to increase.
“In the 21st century, when most of our time is spent online, we expect to get a lot of services that way. The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for health protection further increases the need to use electronic services, i.e. the citizens do not need to go to the counters with many people to “breathe into their necks” – adds for “Portalb.mk”, Belčeva -Ristovska.
The Ministry of Information Society and Administration (MISA) promises that the portal will be upgraded, as some of the current services have already been identified as non-functional.
“Any service that is not functional needs to be repaired to provide the service, or it will have to be removed from the portal until it is fully functional. I can promise that the National Portal for e-Services will be improved both in terms of quality and quantity of services. I would also appeal to the citizens for any service they need, before contacting the competent institutions, to check if this service is already available on the portal and whether it can be obtained very quickly from home,”- says Shpetim Latifi from MISA.
In addition to the services from the portal, citizens can pay bills for electricity, water and telephone through electronic systems. There are also e-shops in RNM, which offer services and products that can be obtained electronically.
Citizens possess devices but are not informed about electronic services
According to the analysis of the OSCE Mission to Skopje in partnership with the Agency for Audio and Audiovisual Media Services (AAAMS), which was published in September 2019, most households in North Macedonia possess electronic devices that provide access to the Internet (83.4%), and 72% of respondents said they use their smartphones every day or almost every day. In terms of information and communication technology (ICT) skills, most respondents said they had better communication skills on social networks (64.9%). The analysis shows that most of them use Facebook (79.1%), YouTube (65.7 %) and Instagram (47.7 %) and use social media to chat, listen to music, follow news content, email, research their work or studies.
Only 6.1 % of respondents use e-banking every day or several times a week, and 5 % publish or share content they have created themselves.
According to these data, the citizens of North Macedonia have conditions to use electronic services because they possess the equipment with which they will have access to it.
“The excuses that the citizens in our country have poor knowledge, lack of computers, etc., are untenable for me. People who do not have the opportunity will receive some state aid, coupons, etc., but most of our citizens have mobile phones. They are sufficient to achieve a certain level of communication with public services. Take, for example, payment for parking over the phone. Or, submit the Annual Tax Return to the PRO and electronic tax decisions. Everything is digital and all citizens have learned to use these services of the PRO electronically, but also to perform their duties electronically,” said university professor Ana Pavlovska-Daneva.
The Ombudsman Ixhet Memeti, for “Portalb.mk”, states that citizens should be more informed about the available services.
“Citizens are not informed enough. There should be a further promotion for citizens to have information or know how to request services. Citizens face problems in receiving services because they cannot get enough information in time, although the system should provide them. Some citizens put forward a request, and although it is stated that the citizen must receive the documentation within a certain time, they do not receive it,” said Memeti, warning that next year they will present their findings and remarks on how this system should be improved.
The same is stated in the “ICEDA” Report, a project implemented by “Metamorphosis”, which says that there is a lack of promotion of the National Portal for e-Services.
“Findings show that the promotion of the service on social networks and TV commercials is not enough and that it is necessary to have a wider promotion of all aspects of digitalization. 75.3 % of CSOs do not agree that citizens are sufficiently aware of the possibility of using electronic services,” the report said.
MISA warns that there will be a campaign that will improve the optical infrastructure, electronic services, but also that will educate all generations.
“The campaign will be more comprehensive and with more partners, not only from our ministry. So, every institution that provides electronic services on our portal, will conduct a campaign to inform citizens about the services they offer. This campaign should be complemented by the development of digital skills of the population, to complete the whole picture. For each new service that will be launched, we plan a public promotion, which will once again inform the public on how to obtain the service. The digitalization of our society will be achieved by improving the optical infrastructure, electronic services and education of all generations, either through formal education or non-formal training for digital skills “- says Shpetim Latifi from MISA.
(continues tomorrow: “We do not need citizenship, we have an ID card”, electronic services can remove many documents from use”)
‘This Investigative article was produced as part of the project Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA, co-funded by the European Union and implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), the Academy of e-Governance (Estonia), Levizja Mjaft! (Albania), CRTA – Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is being implemented with financial support from the European Union.
This Investigative article was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Metamorphosis Foundation and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.’