Digitization of public services is the modern challenge faced by countries of the Western Balkans. It represents a deep process for all countries, which is possible because countries are already progressing in this direction, some slower and some faster. Political will, learning from the positive practices of other countries and perseverance of the institutions is enough in order for countries to move faster towards digitization.
These were the conclusions of the representatives of the governments of the countries of the Western Balkans, at the regional dialogue for the Digital Agenda in Tirana, with a focus on the challenges, capacities, and readiness of the institutions for online services, organized by the Metamorphosis Foundation in cooperation with the “Mjaft” movement (Enough) from Albania, within the framework of the project Increasing civic engagement in the digital agenda – ICEDA, writes Portalb.mk.
Albania is currently a leader in this process in the region, with 95 percent of public services digitized.
Aldo Merkoči from the civil movement “Mjaft” (Enough) from Albania emphasized that the Covid-19 pandemic was the main driver of the digitization process, and then there is the political will to see this as an obligation because it is not an easy policy to implement.
“Digitalization is no longer something of the future, but of the present. With the cyber attacks, we are entering a new diplomatic world,” said Merkoči.
Before approaching digitalization in North Macedonia, the process should be well formulated. If the process is chaotic, it means we are digitizing chaos. The focus of the country should be on less quantity, but more important and more sophisticated services, the Minister of Information Society and Administration of North Macedonia, Admirim Aliti, said at the conference.
“In North Macedonia, fortunately, a few years ago we started digitizing public services with funds from IPA, then MISA continued the process and now we are at this point when we are analyzing what we have digitized and what we need to digitize further,” Aliti said.
He emphasized that during these seven months, as long as he is at the head of the ministry, they have digitized some services. He pointed out that most citizens actually do not know that there are services that are available electronically. This, according to him, is the result of institutions not being allowed to hire marketing companies and advertise their services on television.
“We use social networks for promotion, but that is not enough, this is one of the main problems,” Aliti pointed out.
Referring to the progress of Albania, he emphasized that he does not have the credentials and political power to do something like Edi Rama in Albania, because as he said “at the moment we do not have this luxury in the country, we need other ministers”.
“In North Macedonia, we are in the middle of the road, we are not bad, but we are not where we should be. We are working to digitize that which will make life easier for citizens”, Aliti concluded.
Albania’s service standards minister, Milva Ikonomi, emphasized that, unlike RNM, their country used public funds for marketing electronic public services, which are 95 percent digitized.
She said that now is the moment when the governments of all countries have to change because the digitalization process now is a trend.
Estonia’s example of how it is progressing in this direction is a pressure for “us to improve,” Ikonomi said.
She clarified that the fight against corruption is being waged through digitization.
“The more we digitize, the more corruption decreases. States must think together. As a region, we need to create a structure against cybercrime to protect the digital citizen,” said Ikonomi, among other things.
Kushtrim Tsanoli, the Senior Policy Planning Officer from the Office of the Prime Minister of Kosovo, emphasized that Kosovo has started a process that was mainly driven by the pandemic.
“We started the electronic platform e-Kosova, taking examples from e-Albania, although we were going slower. Some of the challenges are the legal framework which is diverse and scattered and which does not speak according to the principles of the European Commission. Other challenges are the backup systems that need to be updated,” said Tsanoli, emphasizing that the municipalities are weaker in terms of digitalization, but that work is progressing in that direction.
He also emphasized that Kosovo is currently facing a shortage of professional capacities and a shortage of IT experts in the public sector. However, despite these problems, there are also success stories.
Citizens of Montenegro are the only ones in the region who have had digital ID cards since 2020.
Montenegro is facing the same challenges as the countries of the region, says the adviser in the Ministry of Public Administration in Montenegro, Milica Vučinikj.
“We are making progress, but not at the speed expected by the citizens. Our challenge is the institutions that are not ready to switch to digitalization. Without good infrastructure, we cannot develop good services. “Without political will, it is impossible to make a digital transformation,” Vučinikj said.
Ninoslav Kekikj from the Secretariat for Public Policies under the Government of Serbia emphasized that their country was not the fastest in terms of digitization, but that they closely cooperate with citizens and businesses on what digital services they want.
“We changed our strategy in 2016. We cannot provide adequate electronic services without conversations with citizens. I think we are on the right track for digitization because we are digitizing everything in the same way as Albania. Our priority is fully digital services. Change management remains a challenge, said Kekikj.
The representatives of the governments emphasized that in the whole process, the digital skills of the citizens play a big role, and investment should be made.
At the second panel, in which civic organizations from the region engaged in this area shared their practices, Mila Josifovska – Danilovska from the Metamorphosis Foundation, emphasized the importance of focusing on helping every citizen at the local level to use electronic services for their needs.
She pointed out that through the small grant scheme of the ICEDA initiative supported by the European Commission, Metamorphosis awarded 15 sub-grants to non-governmental organizations from the Western Balkans region, which in cooperation with the institutions created and run 16 e-government support centers.
“Through 16 e-government support centers, around 31,734 citizens were trained on how to improve their digital skills and how to use specific public electronic services of their interest, through which they became more aware of the opportunities, but also of the threats the digital transformation brings.”, said Josifovska – Danilovska.
She emphasized that the country’s institutions should recognize these centers and provide support in order for the centers to continue facilitating the spread of digital literacy and accelerate the acceptance of digital transformation by citizens.
Earlier on the same topic, referring to the reforms and the process of Albania in the field of digitalization, members of civil society organizations discussed the same thing.
The conclusion they came to is that digitization is both the present and the future, the faster states digitize their public services, the better and easier it will be for citizens to use them because corruption is also reduced that way. It is therefore important that countries take the best practices from each other and implement them.
The project “Increasing civic engagement in the digital agenda – ICEDA” is implemented by the Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), the e-Governance Academy (Estonia), the Movement Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is implemented with the financial support of the European Union.
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